Although Valtteri Filppula didn’t set the world on fire after the Philadelphia Flyers acquired him from the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline last year, he had a positive effect on the lineup. Sean Couturier moved down a line and Filppula was a welcomed addition on the second line and second power play unit.
For Filppula himself, the 2016-17 season was somewhat of a rebound season. After recording just 31 points in 76 games in 2015-16, he improved by 11 points in just three more games last year.
He kept those numbers strong after moving to Philly, recording eight points in 20 games. Probably the strangest part was that he recorded five goals and just three assists. In the preceding 59 contests, the Finnish forward had just seven markers. Unsurprisingly, Filppula was carrying a 21.7 shooting percentage that will be impossible to continue into next season.
Having said that, Filppula’s $5 million cap hit was a lot to take on, but he definitely proved he could make an impact over last year’s stretch run.
Filppula will be in the opening night lineup, the real question is what position he’ll be at. There’s a logjam at center which may force a move to the wing. Filppula, though, is talented enough to earn a spot over some of the natural wingers in training camp.
In Sean Couturier’s preview article, I went over how the center spots will likely play out. The abridged version: Claude Giroux is the first-line center, Couturier takes the second line to start the year and rookie Nolan Patrick is too valuable to waste on the fourth line, and mans the third line.
Like Patrick, Filppula would be under-utilized on the bottom line. Even with the Flyers added talent, he’s still a top-nine player on the roster. He’ll just likely be playing somewhere else than the middle of the ice.
Given how much coach Dave Hakstol — and really every coach in the NHL — juggles his lineup, Filppula will likely rotate anywhere from the first to third lines over the course of next season. On top of a position change, that also makes projecting Filppula’s production difficult.
The former Red Wing has always been an inconsistent scorer. His career high in points was 66 in 2011-12 and then followed that up with just 17 in 41 games the next season. The next year, his first in Tampa Bay, Filppula rocketed back to 58 points, including 25 goals.
As previously mentioned, Filppula significantly improved between last year and ’15-16, but could that have been because Steven Stamkos was injured for most of last season and the Lightning were struggling? It could have even though he saw less even strength and power play time last season.
I said it wasn’t going to be easy to project Filppula and the last few paragraphs of rambling definitely proves that. On paper, the 6-foot-0 forward should be good for about 40 points, but he’s going to see less minutes than he did last year and on the wing.
Then there’s also the fact that the Flyers’ penalty kill needs some bodies after the departures of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde. Filppula is a perfect replacement for one of them.
That all sets up for him to miss on the 40-point plateau. If he was playing center on the second line, there’d be no discussion, but that’s not the case. Filppula is still a talented player at 33 years old, but there’s a ton of factors working against him this season.
Of course it’s also important to point out that there’s a good chance Filppula doesn’t finish the season in Philly. He’s on the last year of his deal and if the Flyers aren’t in playoff contention, somebody who is could definitely use him.