Rangers could sign gritty Toronto forward to solve their first-line struggles

Dec 12, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Tyler Bertuzzi (59) watches the puck fly by his head in front of New York Rangers defenseman Braden Schneider (4) and goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are in desperate need of a right winger to play on their first line. Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad struggled to find a suitable linemate last season, making this summer’s free agency vital to the success of the top offensive unit.

Fans have continued to disagree on which players the Blueshirts should target once the market opens in July, but one thing is for certain — the Rangers need a gritty, fast-paced grinder to match Kreider and Zibanejad’s play styles.

Tyler Bertuzzi is set to hit the open market in July

tyler bertuzzi, Rangers
Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Bertuzzi, a 29-year-old winger, has bounced around to three different teams across the last two seasons. Playing most of the 2023-24 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bertuzzi is now set to test free agency after another early playoff exit.

Bertuzzi had a decent season with the Maple Leafs, posting 43 points in 80 games played. He tallied an additional four points across Toronto’s seven postseason matchups.

There are multiple reasons why the Rangers should target a player like Bertuzzi. Of his 43 total points in the regular season, 37 of them (86%) came at even strength. With the Rangers struggling to produce points at 5v5, the first line in particular, adding Bertuzzi to Kreider and Zibanejad’s unit could light a spark to help them score at even strength.

Secondly, Bertuzzi’s skill set perfectly matches what the first line is missing. Kreider has an elite net front presence while Zibanejad possesses a lethal shot, but neither player is capable of winning puck battles along the boards or making strong defensive players. Bertuzzi is a physical grinder, making him a solid fit to fill the holes on the Rangers’ first line.

What would the Rangers need to give up to sign Bertuzzi?

tyler bertuzzi, Rangers
Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Bertuzzi is an unrestricted free agent this summer, meaning the Rangers don’t have to worry about trading for his signing rights. Once the market opens in July, all the Blueshirts will need to do is hand him an offer and hope he accepts.

Bertuzzi is coming off a one-year deal with $5.5 million. It’s the highest AAV he’s earned to date, and it’s likely that he’ll be asking for a similar number this summer. However, after bouncing around from team to team the last two seasons, Bertuzzi will likely be looking for a long-term deal as well.

At 29 years old, it wouldn’t hurt the Rangers to sign him to a multi-year deal. A three-year contract worth around $5 million per year seems ideal, but Bertuzzi will hold all the leverage in contract negotiations with multiple teams interested in signing him.

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