In case you are wondering, the title of this post is a Homer Simpson quote from Lisa's Substitute, when Mr Bergstrom is her teacher for a little while. It also sums up my feelings on Todd Bertuzzi and the news that he's going to be a Red Wing for 2 more years.
I want to feel something about this signing. I really do. It seems like this contract has polarized Red Wing Nation more than any other (more on that in a minute). But I just can't muster up either the hate that some people have, nor the good feelings others do. For me, I just don't care that much one way or the other.
So what do I do when I don't have any real emotions tied up in something: look at it objectively. I'm not sure what to make of this signing. I'm a little disappointed that his salary went up, but I think a large part of that is due to the cuts we just saw Lidstrom and Holmstrom take. Drew over at NOHS argues that Bertuzzi does not owe the Wings any hometown discount, and I actually agree with that statement. The Wings brought in Bertuzzi last year as a cheap forward to play some PP and get around 10-20 goals and 40-50 points. He accomplished that, and at times was the Wings' best forward last year. When you take a look at other players with a similar cap hit around the same age as Bertuzzi, the names that stand out are striking: Robert Lang, Mike Knuble, Andrew Brunette, Todd Marchant, Bill Guerin, Brendan Morrison, and Mark Recchi. I can say that out of those players, there isn't one I would take immediately over Bertuzzi. Bert may be inconsistent, but this past year he demonstrated a willingness to play solid defense, and while he was a very streaky scorer at times, when he was on, he was blisteringly-hot. Plus, if you look at the players I just mentioned, most of them make more than Bertuzzi, so we would actually be getting a discount on a player of the same caliber.
I realize that Bertuzzi has his shortcomings. His scoring, as noted, is wildly inconsistent. He sometimes believes that the puck is his own personal property, and we've all seen the Bertuzzi spin-o-rama. I hate it, you hate it, we all hate it together; it's what makes us a family. He's prone to lazy penalties at times. He doesn't play very physical considering his size. But what he brought last year makes up for most of that. Sure, I'd love to see him be consistent and bring solid, smart play every night; but that's not his game. If there were a way to turn him around, I'm pretty sure it would have been done by now.
Now, as I said before, this signing, and Bertuzzi in general, has created a fissure in Red Wing Nation. Personally, I can't think of another player that has divided the fans like Bertuzzi has; maybe Chelios when he was traded to the Wings, but no one else I can think of comes to mind (if you have any ideas, let me know). It sure seems like there is a love/hate relationship with him, and rarely are you going to find someone in the middle. The "love" camp is smaller than the "hate" side, but those people who love him are vocal. I wonder what the reason for the hate is. I figure it's one of two things: leftover resentment/anger from the Steve Moore incident, or disgust over his abilities and style of play.
The Steve Moore thing was so long ago now, I really hope that Red Wing fans don't continue to hold that against him. I'm not condoning what he did, and I was really disappointed at Bertuzzi for giving hockey a black eye, the same way I was pissed at McSorely for his incident. But, he's paid his league-mandated price, he had to deal with criminal charges, and it was just announced that the lawsuit against him will continue, with Bertuzzi being personally responsible for any damages awarded to Moore. Regardless of anything that Bertuzzi did prior to the Moore thing or after it, he will forever be stigmatized as a goon and thug because of one very stupid, ill-advised decision. But let's face it: he wasn't a Red Wing at the time, he didn't do it to a Red Wing, and he has been squeaky clean since then. So why should we continue to resent him for something he did a number of years ago? It's not like the Red Wings have always been angels themselves; Dallas Drake was a guy known for playing on the edge and may have crossed it at times; Niklas Kronwall has often left his feet to lay a guy out; and Chris Chelios was never nominated for a Lady Byng. I realize that none of these guys did anything near what Bertuzzi did, but the Wings employ "tough guys" that make a living bending or even breaking the rules.
Does his style of play bother you? Well, that's a different story, and one I can appreciate. Some people point out his inconsistency as an issue: Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula were both up and down all year last year, and in fact Flip only really came on after being put on a line with Bertuzzi and Zetterberg. Last year, not one single forward on the Wings was consistently good all season. Don't like his style of play with all of the puck-handling and lack of physicality? He did the same thing as Mikael Samuelsson, and had Hudler made his intentions known about going to the KHL earlier, I can guarantee you the Wings would have brought Sammy back and most fans would have been happy about it. I know he's got a history of being injured: Henrik Zetterberg has never played more than 77 games in one year over 7 seasons, Tomas Holmstrom hasn't played more than 70 games in season for the last 3 years, and Niklas Kronwall has played more than 70 games once in his career. I don't point out these things to disparage the players they have; it's more to point out the double standard under which Bertuzzi has to operate as a Red Wing. Truth be told, the only players on the Wings that have no issues similar to Bertuzzi are Datsyuk and Lidstrom; everyone else on the team, Zetterberg included, has a "black mark" so to speak on their resume.
Look, I'm no Bertuzzi-lover. I'll admit I was not crazy about the signing last year, but after the season he had, I've changed my tune a little. I still don't think he's a great player, but it's pretty clear he fits in the system the Wings have in place, and while he's making more than I would like, he's still a bargain. If he gets hurt, well, we'll have to deal with it; I don't recall anyone saying "boo" last year when Niklas Kronwall got hurt, and he's got just as much of an injury history as Bertuzzi while making more money. Given the injury issues last year, if Bertuzzi is the only one that gets injured, I'll be singing gospel songs and dancing around in my underwear on my front lawn (there's a mental image for you). Remember that if he does get hurt and goes on IR, his salary comes off the cap. I think the reason that a lot of fans don't like Bertuzzi is because they don't consider him to be a "Red Wing"; the roster is full of guys that were either drafted by the Wings or have been with them so long that no one even remembers who else they played for. Bertuzzi doesn't fit that mold, so we nitpick everything he does and say that it was a bad signing. We as fans don't have to agree with every single move the organ-i-zation makes; but we have to understand why it was made. Bertuzzi is a Red Wing for 2 more years; accept it and let's move on.