Red Wings: Evaluating Valtteri Filppula’s Return to Detroit

When your team is in the midst of a rebuild, sometimes general managers are forced to get creative in order to sell tickets. One such way is to bring back a familiar face. For the Detroit Red Wings in the 2019-20 season, the player who banked the nostalgia points was center Valtteri Filppula.

From 2005 to 2013, Filppula was a middle-six center for the Red Wings, including his career-best 66 points during the 2011-12 season. A third-round pick in 2002, he departed the Red Wings in the offseason of 2013 to join the Tampa Bay Lightning. After spending some time there, he was moved to the Philadelphia Flyers, and then signed with the New York Islanders in the summer of 2018. After a year with them, he returned to the Red Wings, stating how he “loved the team and city.” (from ‘Return of Valtteri Filppula means Andreas Athanasiou will shift back to wing,’ Detroit Free Press, 07/01/2019)

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But what did he bring to the Red Wings’ lineup besides a sense of familiarity? After all, this wasn’t the Filppula of old who was in his prime. Instead, this is a 35-year-old (now 36) who is skating towards the end of his career. He was signed to bring a veteran presence to the lineup and to stabilize the team at the center position. Also, offensive production would be nice too.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Filppula spent the majority of the 2019-20 season as the Red Wings’ number two center behind Dylan Larkin. His wingers were a rotating cast of characters including Andreas Athanasiou, Robby Fabbri, Filip Zadina and Darren Helm just to name a few. Perhaps it was the inability to establish chemistry with anyone that paved the way for his mediocre 21 points in 70 games.

Valtteri Filppula (Andy Martin Jr.)

To be clear, we’re talking about a forward whose production was on the decline well before he returned to Detroit. Filppula hadn’t recorded more than 40 points since the 2016-17 season. The last season he recorded a positive Corsi% was the 2015-16 season — he had a Corsi% of 44.3 this season. In other words, it’s no wonder he struggled to produce despite the role he was handed.

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Although it’s a bit of an outdated statistic, Filppula’s plus/minus rating took a big hit this season as well. With a rating of minus-42, he sits second to last in the entire league, ahead of only Athanasiou. In fact, this season took such a big toll on his plus/minus rating that for his career, he is now a minus-3. Simply put, he had a ROUGH year.

Another Year

The two-year pact Filppula signed last summer means that he’ll lace ’em up for the Red Wings again next season. While it is now obvious that he is unable to anchor the second line, he could still provide value in a more limited role. After all, the team’s issues extend beyond the scope of just one under-performing player.

With the development of Michael Rasmussen this season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, as well as the opportunity to add a skilled center in the draft, Filppula should fall down the lineup in 2020-21. He can still provide quality minutes in a bottom-six role, while also seeing time on the team’s second power-play unit as a set-up man. With the rapid decline of Frans Nielsen, as well as the trade of Athanasiou, the Red Wings may have no choice but to utilize Filppula in this fashion.

Valtteri Filppula Detroit Red Wings
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With any luck, Filppula will turn his luck around and have a fruitful 2020-21 season. At that point, he may become trade bait for a team looking to add a veteran presence for their playoff run. He wouldn’t yield a premium asset, but the Red Wings should be interested in anything that nets them future assets. Plus, by that point, trading him might pave the way for a prospect like Joe Veleno to grab a spot on the roster.

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Although Filppula’s struggles were large this season, he still has a place on the team for the time being. He sits sixth in team scoring — a true sign of how barren the Red Wings’ lineup is. If put in the right part of the lineup, the 36-year-old center still has the offensive IQ to create chances for the young wingers the Red Wings hope to develop. Whether or not he gets put in a position to succeed will depend greatly on the moves the Red Wings make between now and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.