Tyler Bertuzzi celebrates a goal
Photo credit: NHL

Sheldon Keefe makes major change to the Leafs' top powerplay unit

Published February 20, 2024 at 11:06

Don't look now, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are enjoying an 8-2-0 run over their last 10 games and have gone 4-0-0 since Morgan Rielly's suspension was handed down from the Department of Player Safety for his cross-check on Ottawa's Ridly Greig on February 10th.

The Leafs' latest surge has vaulted them past the Tampa Bay Lightning for 3rd in the Atlantic Division, getting them out of the Wild Card race and back into the hunt for home ice advantage in round 1 of the playoffs in a couple short months. The Leafs are currently sitting at 68 points on the season, just 8 points back of Florida and 9 points back of Boston with games in hand on both teams.

Last night in St. Louis, the Leafs skated away with a 4-2 victory, thanks to the tremendous play of Mitch Marner, who earned himself player of the game honours with a 3-assist night, but there was an unsung hero in this one who didn't get the credit he deserved for the Leafs' go-ahead goal to start the third period. I am, of course, talking about Tyler Bertuzzi, who was responsible for a little stick lift with the Leafs on the powerplay, which allowed Marner to scoop up the puck and find a streaking Auston Matthews, who made no mistake, burying his league-leading 49th goal of the season.

Yes, you read that correctly. Tyler Bertuzzi was playing on the top powerplay unit with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Timothy Liljegren. If you're noticing a pretty glaring absence there, don't worry. You're not crazy. John Tavares was removed from the top unit last night, centering the 2nd PP unit instead.

The move was a surprising one, but with Bertuzzi needing to get going and Tavares seemingly experiencing the inevitable effects of a late career decline, the Leafs appear to be more amenable to starting a bit of a phase-out routine with Tavares, who is 33 years of age and won't be getting any younger throughout his tenure as a Leaf, however long that should continue.

Tavares has one year left on his 7-year, $77M deal that he signed with the team in free agency back in 2018. Nobody knows quite yet what's going to happen beyond next season, whether it be JT agreeing to re-up with the Leafs at a drastically reduced cap hit or the Leafs thanking him for a tremendous 7 years and allowing him to return to free agency. For those reasons, it certainly does make sense to begin reducing his role with the team and allowing others to step up and grab hold of an opportunity - in this case, Bertuzzi, who has seen just a fraction of the powerplay time that he was used to while playing in Detroit.

It remains to be seen if Bertuzzi will remain up with the top PP unit longer-term of if this was just a trial run to see how he handles the increased responsibility. The Leafs only had two powerplay opportunities last night and went 1/2 on the PP, with Bertuzzi factoring in on the Matthews goal with his savvy stick-lift, though he wasn't credited with an assist on the play because he didn't touch the puck. Still, his contribution there should not be ignored.

Bertuzzi recently snapped the longest scoring drought of his career, finding the back of the net against Anaheim on Saturday and scoring for the first time since December 27th. Hopefully he can keep finding ways to contribute during the 3 remaining games of the Leafs' road trip.

February 20   |   710 answers
Sheldon Keefe makes major change to the Leafs' top powerplay unit

Should Tyler Bertuzzi remain on the top PP unit for the rest of the season in JT's place?

Yes, JT has lost a step26737.6 %
No, but I'm fine leaving him up there for now25636.1 %
They should change it up from game to game18726.3 %
No, JT belongs on the top PP unit00 %
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