Sheldon Keefe identifies Leafs' X-factor for the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Mike Armenti
April 10, 2024  (2:41 PM)

Tyler Bertuzzi chases down a loose puck in the corner
Photo credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

After another solid outing against the Devils last night Toronto Maple Leafs head coach, Sheldon Keefe has been thoroughly impressed with Tyler Bertuzzi's game.

When Bertuzzi had begun his season with just 2 goals and 3 points across his first 12 games of the season, Leafs Nation was wondering whether new GM Brad Treliving had made a mistake with the 1-year, $5.5M deal he signed Bertuzzi to this past summer. However, now, it's a very different story.
After a 2-goal, 3-point outing in New Jersey last night, Bertuzzi is up to 21 goals and 42 points across 76 games this season, producing 15 goals and 22 points since the start of February. Simply put, Bertuzzi has been red hot for the Leafs, and he's heating up at just the right time of the year, with the playoffs set to commence in a week and a half.
Following the win in New Jersey, Sheldon Keefe spoke with the traveling Toronto media and referred to Bertuzzi as an "X-factor" for the team:
"All I can say is, you know, throughout his career, at different levels, he seems to have that knack. Junior hockey, American League, NHL... so I think he is a bit of an X-factor. He's got that competitiveness in him. He plays hard, he's fearless, he's got a good stick, both to make plays and finish around the net and he goes to dirty areas, which really helps open things up for his line, but also, that he's in the right places when the puck arrives so we've been saying it throughout the season that we sensed that he's going to be trend in the right direction at the most important time of the year, and we've seen that."

Just one year ago, Bertuzzi lit the league on fire, posting 5 goals and 5 assists for a total of 10 points in 7 games against the Florida Panthers. Unfortunately, it was not enough for the Bruins, who lost Game 7 to the Panthers after originally holding a 3-1 series lead. Of course, Florida would go on to beat the Leafs in Round 2 and make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, where they would lose in 5 games to the eventual 2022-23 Stanley Cup winners.
While I'm sure the Leafs are hoping for a similar performance from Bertuzzi against Florida in Round 1 this season, I don't think he's the primary focus. They're probably relying a lot more on their core players (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly) to get the job done in Round 1, but it never hurts to have some nice supporting pieces like Bertuzzi and Domi in the lineup, especially with how well their respective games translate in the playoffs.
Sheldon Keefe calling Bertuzzi an X-factor for the upcoming playoffs probably jives with how Leafs Nation feels. For much of the second half, there has been a ton of talk about if/when the Leafs will extend Bertuzzi and even Domi. With Bertuzzi having produced at least 20 goals in 4 of his last 6 seasons, there will be a market for him this summer - especially if he shows well in the playoffs. Just how much he'll get on the open market, should he make it there, is up for debate.
I'd argue that his current $5.5M cap hit is probably a good price range for him, given his previous health concerns and level of production over his last 6 seasons. However, with the salary cap continuing to rise, don't be shocked if we see his AAV on his next deal slightly higher than that, with something starting with a 6, perhaps even a 7 if he really shows out in the playoffs. Will it be with the Maple Leafs, though? That's the million dollar question.
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Sheldon Keefe identifies Leafs' X-factor for the Stanley Cup Playoffs

What do you think Tyler Bertuzzi's next cap hit looks like if he stays with the Maple Leafs?

His current $5.5M or less20152.1 %
$5.6M-$6M12833.2 %
$6.1M-$6.5M4912.7 %
$6.6M-$7M or over82.1 %
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