Dec 7, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula (51) skates as Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) defends during the first period at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Valtteri Filppula: Flying Under The Radar

Steve Yzerman has been busy since the Tampa Bay Lightning season ended in the 1st round of the NHL playoffs.  In the span of about 80 days, Yzerman hasn’t gone around the world but has signed a goalie, Andrei Vasilevskii, to an entry level contract.  He has locked up our two Calder Trophy co-finalists, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, to identical three year contracts and locked up Harvard educated forward, Alex Killorn to a two year deal.

Now we all know Yzerman isn’t done.

According to reports, the Lightning has been continuing talks with unrestricted free agent, Ryan Callahan hoping to lock up the Right Winger long term.

There have also been rumors that Ryan Malone may be bought out by the team.

Next Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia, the NHL Draft will be held.  You can bet that Steve Yzerman, Al Murray, Director ofAmateur Scouting, and their entire staff have been burning the midnight oil preparing for the eight draft picks they currently have including two first round selections.

Just like these past 80 days or so, Yzerman was busy last year.  He had to make what was perhaps the most difficult decision of his four years at the Lightning helm.  He had to use a compliance buyout on Captain Vincent Lecavalier.

With an expected salary cap hit north of $8 million, Yzerman had little choice but to cut ties with Vinny.  After 14 seasons with the only organization he has ever known, Lecavalier would no longer be a Tampa Bay Lightning.  There was no doubt that not only was this difficult for Yzerman and many in the entire Lightning organization.  It was especially tough on Vinny, but he knew it was business and he handed his exit with class.

Shortly after the buyout, Yzerman signed Center Valtteri Filppula from the Detroit Red Wings.  Before the ink was even dry on that deal, both Yzerman and Filppula were making statements that the 6’ 1” native of Finland wasn’t brought here as anyone’s replacement.  In fact, Yzerman emphatically stated “He’s not coming here as Vinny Lecavalier’s replacement, he’s coming in as a player that can do a lot of little things for us, is a versatile guy”.

There is no doubt that Filppula and Lecavlier are two entirely different types of players but when you subtract one Center from your team and add another a few days later, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made.

Since many had already made that comparison, let me add my two cents with a twist.  Now that it has been a full season since Vinny left and Valtteri came in, I want to take a closer look at our second line center and yes, even throw in a statistical comparison between the two.

Before I share some stats I found interesting, I do want to say that I was impressed with Filppula for a number of things that cannot be found on a stat sheet.  I thought his puck possession was incredible.  It seemed at times to me, that when he had the puck on his stick, he had it on there with glue.  Almost as if the tape on his stick blade was double sided, so he would maintain control of the puck.

He also made some ‘stop on a dime’ moves especially in the offensive zone that reminded me of a player I saw in my youth – Denis Savard.  Now for you long time Bolts fans, yes I’m talking about the Hall of Fame Center who played for the Lightning back in 1993-94 and 1994-95.  But the Savard I remember most was the kid I saw with the Chicago Blackhawks in the early 1980’s.

Like Savard, Filppula is almost magician-like with his puck control.  He can have a couple defenders draped over him and yet maintain the puck until the exact moment he needs to pass or shoot.  He appears to be getting boxed into a corner and he’ll spin around at the precise moment the defender attempts to lay him out against the boards.

 No question in his first year with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Valtteri Filppula proved just how smart Yzerman and his staff are in identifying the right talent to bring into the organization.

 

Looking over his production last year, I compared what Filppula accomplished in his first year here in Tampa with his average production while he played in Detroit over eight seasons.  Clearly, Filppula raised his level of play tremendously for us last year:

 

TEAM GAMES GOALS ASSISTS SHOOTING % TOI
DETROIT 60.4 12.5 18.9 12.8 16:16
TAMPA 75 25 33 19.1 19:58

 

No doubt that across the board, Filppula came into his own here in Tampa.  Now, despite both Yzerman and Filppula telling us before last season that he wasn’t brought in to replace Vinny, let’s look at that comparison.  For my purposes, I compared what Filppula did last year against Vinny’s entire 14 year career as well as the last four year average:

 

DETAIL GAMES GOALS ASSISTS SHOOTING % TOI
FILPPULA-TB 75 25 33 19.1 19:58
LECAVALIER-14 YRS 74 27 35 12.1 19:15
LECAVALIER – LAST 4 YRS 62.5 20 31 10.5 18.45

 

In comparing both his Detroit production against his Tampa performance as well as his stats against Vinny, I think it is more than safe to say that Valtteri Filppula is exceeding everyone’s expectations.  It is plain to see that he stepped up his game from his time in Detroit.   I can also see that in some important statistical categories, Filppula replicated what Lecavalier had brought onto the ice during his time here in Tampa.

 

Yet, despite this performance, when people talk about what makes the Lightning so good, talk inevitably centers around, with good reason, Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop.  If they continue to talk about the team, they may talk about Victor Hedman, perhaps even Jonathan Drouin.

 

There are some that may mention him but my point is that we are fortunate to see Valtteri Filppula play for our Bolts.  He is an excellent # 2 center.  He is a very good playmaker and scorer in his own right.  He plays both ways and his versatility creates numerous options for coach, Jon Cooper.

 

In my mind, Filppula is among the most under rated players in the NHL.  About the soft spoken Finn, I bet he doesn’t mind one bit flying under the radar.  He isn’t the kind of guy that seeks the spotlight.  He is a lunch pail guy.  He comes to work, he clocks in.  He laces up his skates and goes out and plays the game and plays the game at a high level.

After a very successful initial season in Tampa, I am anxious to see what Valtteri Filppula does for an encore.

 

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Tags: Steve Yzerman Tampa Bay Lightning Valtteri Filppula Vincent Lecavalier

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