With no long-term deal, Tyler Bertuzzi out to 'prove myself' again

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Tyler Bertuzzi proved himself in the OHL. He proved himself in the AHL. He's starting to prove himself in the NHL, but he's far from proven yet.

That became clear this month when Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings took the All-Star forward to arbitration rather than sign him to a long-term deal. And it became clearer on Tuesday when the Wings won the negotiation. Bertuzzi wound up with a $3.5 million deal, a good deal less than what he was seeking.

The two sides did "a lot of talking" about a long-term deal, Bertuzzi said. Ultimately they couldn't reach an agreement. If that left Bertuzzi bummed, he didn't say so -- or sound so -- during a Zoom call with local reporters on Wednesday.

"I wouldn’t say disappointed. I’m very grateful to get this opportunity," he said. "I’m just going to go out and prove myself this year like I have been the last few years. I’m not looking at it any differently. I’m happy."

Bertuzzi got his first consistent opportunity in Detroit in the 2018-19 season. He scored 21 goals. He matched that output last season, while playing first-line minutes against first-line competition. Along with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, Bertuzzi is one of the few team's few established building blocks up front.

Larkin already has a long-term deal. Mantha will likely get his later this offseason. Bertuzzi will have to wait at least another year, just like he waited longer for his chance in the NHL. And his approach won't change if and when he secures his future.

"Whether I sign for five, four, six years, every year you need to perform and work hard and contribute. So even if I signed a six-year deal, I’ll play every game like I’m on a one-year deal," Bertuzzi said. "I just need to prove every year that I’m a good player and I want to contribute to this team."

To the Red Wings as presently constructed, Bertuzzi is worth more than $3.5 million. The question is what he'll be worth when they're ready to win. He isn't a first-line forward on a Cup contender; he's better suited somewhere in the middle six. If he was seeking first-line money in a long-term deal, Yzerman and the Wings were right to hold off.

And if the Wings wanted to pay him like the second- or third-line player they think he'll become, Bertuzzi was right to bet on himself again. Ultimately, the two sides want the same thing -- and Bertuzzi made it clear there's no ill will.

"We want to win hockey games. We’re here to win," he said. "It’s nothing personal at all."

If Bertuzzi takes another step forward next season, Detroit will be happy to reward him. If his game levels out, he might just as soon take the money on the table. For now, Bertuzzi is ready to put business behind him -- and attack the opportunity ahead.

"It was a little different than anything I’ve ever been through, but it went smoothly," Bertuzzi said. "We’re happy that we got a deal done and I’m happy to be back."