Big Bert's big shot

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

Whether or not you're comfortable with Todd Bertuzzi being a member of the Calgary Flames yet, there are plenty of reasons to believe he'll be able to turn his career around.

Perhaps the biggest one was on display at the tail end of practice last week, when Bertuzzi brought down the house with a series of nifty moves that saw him convert one of the sickest penalty shots seen around here since, well, that Huselius part-timer was on the team.

"He's known as a power forward, but he has a pretty small stick, and his skill when he gets the puck close to him is unreal," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla. "He can put it in his body, and he has almost trick moves -- it's surprising. Spin-a-ramas and stuff. It's not what you think when you think power forward."

The penalty shot, which included a between-the-legs manoeuvre, was a glimpse into the type of hands Bertuzzi is certainly not known for, and it's a sign the Flames may have replaced the playmaking abilities lost when Huselius left town and Alex Tanguay was sent packing.

Known for years as one of NHL's premier power forwards, Bertuzzi has certainly transformed his game to become more of a playmaking, perimetre player. Of course, he still possesses the size and grit the Flames want to be known for again. He also has respectable speed for a big man who shed 26 lb. to weigh in at 226.

"It's not as if I'm carrying a dump truck behind me," scowled the 33-year-old winger when told one of the knocks on him was that he couldn't keep up in today's game.

"I'm not the fastest guy out there, but I think I have decent speed -- it's as good as it's ever been. I've skated well for many years, and it's never been criticized. At the same time, you've got to use your head in a lot of areas. To play these days, you have to be quicker on your feet. You've got to be a little more creative."

And that's exactly what he appears to be all about, at least in the pre-season, when he developed chemistry that will likely keep him alongside Iginla and Daymond Langkow to start the season.

And while the bulk of the city has grown comfortable with Bertuzzi's controversial arrival, the debate rages on as to how successful he'll be at resurrecting his career here.

So, at $1.95 million, what do you define as successful?

While Bertuzzi's physical presence allows him to contribute in other ways, it says here the over/under on his success is determined by a goal total of 20.

More than that and he's a smash success the fans will want re-signed. Less than that and the man with such gifted hands didn't play to his potential.

Headlining the list of reasons to believe the five-time 25-goal scorer will rebound after three forgettable stops is the fact the team will clearly give him the ice time he needs to once again be an impact player. He'll start the season on the top line and the top powerplay unit and be given every opportunity to stay there.

Unlike in Florida, Detroit and Anaheim where he played a bit-role when not battling injuries, he'll be front and centre here as he was in his Vancouver heyday.

Perhaps more importantly is the fact he's reunited with one of his biggest influences in hockey, Mike Keenan.

As if a one-year contract wasn't motivation enough to prove he still belongs in the NHL, the presence of Keenan should push him even more.

"(Keenan) helped me get out of a situation in Long Island and put some belief and trust in me, and when you've got a guy doing that, man, you want to give everything and repay everything back," said Bertuzzi of a 1998 trade to the Canucks that saw Keenan help breathe new life into a frustrated youngster's game.

"He said, 'Just be yourself.' It's rare to run into people like that. Mike was really good to me."

He insists ailments that have plagued him the last three seasons have healed and the weight loss is a good sign he's in as good a shape as he's been for years.

Of course, injuries are a legitimate cause for concern with Bertuzzi, as might be his defensive play, which is supposed to be the team's new focus.

One thing is certain -- he'll never get a better opportunity to prove he can once again be a top player in the league.

And he knows it.


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