Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Todd Bertuzzi will fan the Flames' fire

“Obviously, I’m well aware I wasn’t the most popular pick in Calgary Flames’ history. But I think you have to give it a little bit of time and give me a chance.”

There has been much controversy over Todd Bertuzzi becoming a Calgary Flame. On the ice, while his stats didn't overwhelm in Anaheim, he should provide a good mix to the team. He has the grit and scoring ability that is synonymous with Western Conference hockey. The chemistry is obviously good between him and the team's captain Jarome Iginla, who went to bat for him to bring him here.

“He was one of the power forwards that I would look to and check their numbers and watch and admired his game,” admits Iginla. “His own fans loved him. As far as winning the fans over, I think that’s going to be something on the ice. I think fans will give him a chance.”

General Manager Darryl Sutter and his staff felt he was a fit because he is a big guy and can still put up numbers. “In the end, the money worked, so that’s probably why it was a good fit. If we thought he was an injury-prone player, we wouldn’t have signed him.”

Bertuzzi admits he never expected to ever wear a red Flames’ jersey at any point of his career, especially after having been a Canuck for eight seasons. He is however excited about coming back to Canada and has a positive relationship with head coach Mike Keenan.

“Mike basically gave me my kick-start in Vancouver. A lot of my success has come from him and how he played me and how he used me. Mike’s a guy who knows how to treat different people at different times and different situations. He pushes you really hard and all that but at the same time, he knows what kind of person they are, how they live, and how they handle different situations.”

All the warm fuzzies aside, off the ice is where most of the controversy hovers.

Much of that obviously has to do with the attack on former Colorado Avalanche Steve Moore, already four years ago, when Bertuzzi played for Vancouver. To refresh, Moore had laced a big-time hit on Canuck star Marcus Naslund that knocked him out in the game on March 8, 2004. The Canucks were incensed and later on in the contest, Bertuzzi jumped on and attached Moore from behind. Moore suffered a concussion and two broken vertebrae, jeopardizing the young player’s ability to ever return to the NHL. Bertuzzi was charged with assault a few months later on June 24. He pled guilty and now faces a civil lawsuit, with Marc Crawford and the Canucks added to list of defendants. In the plea agreement, Bertuzzi was given a conditional discharge with no criminal record, sentenced to one year of probation and 80 hours of community service, and banned from participating in any sporting event where Steve Moore might be involved. He was also suspended for the rest of the season and the 2004 playoffs.

As a result of the incident, the NHLPA seemed to have bailed on Steve Moore right from the start. Players and the PA hierarchy sided with Bertuzzi because Moore only had played 64 games in the NHL. He belonged to the same fraternity, lived in the same trench, but because he was deemed to have fewer games under his belt, he was "making Todd Bertuzzi's life miserable."

Who knows if Moore would have gelled into a first- or second-line player? But because of the hit, he will never lace up a skate in the league ever again. He will be lucky to ever enjoy normal life without doctors and painkillers.

Personally, I do not believe he intended to break Moore's neck, and I can't imagine how horrible it would be to know you were responsible for ending someone else’s career. Bertuzzi has mentally and publicly paid for his mistake many times over. But what he has that Moore does not is the entire hockey fraternity standing behind him. He didn’t have Wayne Gretzky adding him to the lineup of Team Canada for the 2006 World Championships. It's as if Moore's career wasn't as worthy. And that is NOT Todd Bertuzzi's fault. Nor is it his fault that he seems to be the lone guy holding the bag now, when to anyone watching, he was clearly sent onto the ice for revenge on the Naslund hit. Add to the mix, his former coach Marc Crawford, in an attempt to get out of the lawsuit, is recently denying culpability and saying Bertuzzi acted in direct disobedience. It’s taken until now for Crawford to bring this up. And since when is a coach not responsible for his players?

Back to the Calgary Flames, regardless of what Bertuzzi does on the ice, the $38 million lawsuit is expected to go to trial this year. So the question arises: how much of distraction will this be for the team?

There is no doubt Bertuzzi feels comfortable in Calgary. He likes the organization and he likes the people. He thinks he can really contribute, and he’s used to the media spotlight, even after the hiatus in Anaheim, where he could stay off the radar. That’s something his new GM gives him credit for. He could have gone to another team like Anaheim, where NHL media coverage is secondary. But he didn’t. He is also not taking anything for granted.

“I don’t think anything’s a given, especially the top six positions. Even though I consider myself up there, I still have to go out there and earn it. In Anaheim, I thought it was a good opportunity. I just didn’t fit into the mode there with ice time. Playing 10-12 minutes a game; it’s kind of tough to perform, especially trying to play offense.”

One thing is for sure, because of its new acquisition, the Calgary Flames may very well be one of the most watched teams in the NHL this season.


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