By Saturday evening, Tyler Bertuzzi had still not put pen to paper on a new deal.
But as the 28-year-old winger mulled his options, one door was apparently already shut with the Bruins.
Speaking to the media after doling out nine contracts on the first day of NHL free agency, Don Sweeney acknowledged that Bertuzzi’s return was “in all likelihood”, no longer feasible.
As for what played into the decision for Boston to move on from its trade-deadline pickup?
“Probably all the factors,” Sweeney said. “The term that he has rightfully probably earned, the AAV that he’s seeking and what other teams are in position to provide that we probably weren’t, unless I made another big move and again, he’s going to land in a really good spot for him and his family and we wish him luck. He was a great piece of our puzzle and dearly would like to have gone down the path to extend him.”
Despite Sweeney’s rationale, the optics that followed were tough to stomach for a team still looking to remain competitive in 2023-24.
Bertuzzi ultimately signed a one-year contract, opting to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. Along with a short-term deal, Bertuzzi’s annual cap hit this season sits at $5.5 million, along with a no-movement clause.
Despite the cap crunch, Bertuzzi was the type of asset that the Bruins ideally wanted to add to their future foundation — given the chemistry he forged with David Pastrnak, along with his impressive showing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (five goals, 10 points in seven games).
So what went wrong between the Bruins and Bertuzzi that led to the top-six forward’s exit?
Misreading the market
This stands as the most obvious factor that led to Bertuzzi’s current short-term agreement.
Bertuzzi’s agent, Todd Reynolds, told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski that Bertuzzi was seeking a long-term deal this summer. That comes as little surprise, given both his impressive postseason performance and what little security he has had at the NHL level.
The Bruins were also likely motivated to retain Bertuzzi. Beyond justifying the steep cost it took to acquire him (2024 first-round pick, 2025 fourth-round pick), a forward trio of Bertuzzi, Pavel Zacha, and Pastrnak was poised to do plenty of damage in 2023-24 and beyond.
The Bruins weren’t looking to retain Bertuzzi on a short-term deal. But clearly, whatever offer they had on the table wasn’t palatable to Bertuzzi and his representatives.
If Bertuzzi and his camp were looking to secure a six or seven-year deal, the Bruins weren’t going to invite the risk of that type of deal. A fourth or fifth-year contract? Even with Bertuzzi’s injury history, Boston was likely willing to play ball.
But if Bertuzzi’s camp was adamant on trying to secure six or seven years, it makes sense that the Bruins moved on — thinking that such a deal was inevitable once Bertuzzi was able to field offers on the open market.
And with Boston needing to fill out multiple roster spots on Saturday, it couldn’t wait to see how the market evolved with Bertuzzi. Beyond someone like Milan Lucic who wanted to return, it seems unlikely that other affordable veterans like Kevin Shattenkirk or a low-cost option like Morgan Geekie would still be available on Sunday.
By the time Bertuzzi pivoted back to whatever Boston originally pitched him, Sweeney’s latest chunk of cap space was already used up.
Even though Bertuzzi will look to juice up his numbers with Toronto’s top-six unit, having to bet on himself once again was not the path that the veteran forward was looking to chart this summer.
It sure feels like Bertuzzi and his representatives overplayed their hand.
A lack of cap flexibility … and an unforgiving market
Bertuzzi and his camp initially didn’t want to settle for a short-term deal. But it’s still a tough break for the Bruins that they weren’t able to strike after the market shifted due to their current fiscal situation.
If the Bruins swapped out James van Riemsdyk’s one-year deal with Bertuzzi’s, they’d likely have just under $3 million left in cap space to sign RFAs in Jeremy Swayman, Trent Frederic, and Jakub Lauko — let alone have any cash left over to account for a potential return for Patrice Bergeron.
Had the Bruins been aware that Bertuzzi and his camp were going to opt for one-year deals, maybe another deal could have been struck to offload another asset such as Matt Grzelcyk or Derek Forbort.
Of course, even that objective is easier said than done, given the unforgiving nature of this current cap-crunched marketplace.
In an offseason that has seen Taylor Hall dealt for two fringe NHL defensemen and Josh Bailey (and a second-round pick) traded for future considerations, the Bruins were likely getting next to nothing in any deal involving Grzelcyk.
The Bruins are not without fault when it comes to Bertuzzi donning a blue-and-white sweater next season.
Last year’s all-in moves sapped them of any semblance of fiscal flexibility this summer, while the case could be made that another buyout or pure salary dump (even with little to no return) should have been prescribed to guarantee Bertuzzi’s return.
Ultimately, this feels like a misread from all parties — with Bertuzzi and his group’s insistence on a long-term deal in an uneven market setting the chain of events into motion.
Conor Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.