When a hockey player shows toughness and an unconventional brand of leadership, they are rewarded with another start or more minutes. In Robert Bortuzzo’s case, a new contract has arrived mere days after getting into a practice tussle with the young Zach Sanford.
The St. Louis Blues and Bortuzzo agreed to a three-year contract extension on Saturday, solidifying the back end of the Blues defensive core from the right side. Perhaps, it could mean something more. The deal is worth $1.375 million per season, and will run out almost a month after Bortuzzo’s 33rd birthday. That’s a low price to pay for a guy who is slowly accumulating more time and worth on the ice to the Blues.
Here’s the thing. Bortuzzo will never score more 15 points in a season, or blow you away with awards and player of the week accolades. He is a gritty defenseman who doesn’t mind pushing players around and will show a brand of toughness that is missing on certain parts of the ice for the Blues. When you have baby-soft physical specimens like Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko out there, men like Bortuzzo and Joel Edmundson are required to balance out the Mr. Rodgers factor.
In short, Bortuzzo is useful out there. He fills a role and provides a skillset that all hockey players simply don’t have when they enter the pros. He will score the occasional goal, provide some offense here to there, but is mainly out there to ruffle feathers, protect his goaltender, and stand up for his teammates. On occasion, even put his fist through one of their heads.
No one will ever know what actually transpired between Bortuzzo and Sanford on the ice this week, but it seemed to light a fire under the team. The Blues have won two straight since, including a thrilling win over the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night, where Bortuzzo had an assist on Parayko’s go-ahead goal in the third period. Something came to a boil on the ice that day and two men solved it with their fists.
I loved all the weak-legged fans telling me this is not good for the team. Right, two hockey players having a harmless fist right in practice is toxic...sure. Ask Dave Schultz, Tony Twist, or Cam Janssen if it’s a bad thing. Give me a break. The Blues need guys like Bortuzzo around to smack the crap out of the youth when they step out of line.
Please don’t mistake this for reporting, because I’ll leave that to the professionals(and the rest of them), but here’s what I think went down. Sanford did something that crossed the line, and Bortuzzo threw him a beating. Done. Solved. Finished. As Art Lippo of the Gametime paper pointed out, I am sure they were best friends again that night.
Bortuzzo’s annual salary doesn’t hamper the team next year or in 2021-22, so don’t fret. This isn’t a payroll-kneecapping deal like Bouwmeester or Alexander Steen. This is picking up a useful guy who knows how to play the game. Will Bortuzzo make mistakes? Yes, but I bet they will be far less than 80% of the team.
PROSPECT WORSHIPPERS: This does not prevent any young Blues D-man from playing or earning his paycheck. Stand down.
OLD SCHOOL FAN: This does not hurt the chances of the team upgrading in certain areas.
Perhaps, this extension opens up the Blues to move a defenseman or two. Doug Armstrong could be starting to clean house by keeping a shirt or two hung up. We shall see.
For now, be inspired. Or punch someone in your workplace and hope for a raise.
Either way, I’d drink more bourbon.