Should Lightning Be Shopping Filppula?

Valtteri Filppula has been a perfect fit with the Tampa Bay Lightning ever since leaving the Detroit Red Wings back in 2013-14 to join his new team in the Sunshine State. At 32-years-old, and with the Lightning pressed tight up against the NHL’s salary cap, could Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman be thinking of moving Filppula prior to or near the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline? Let’s examine the situation.

Cap Crunch

The Lightning, as of right now, have $73.9 million tied up in contracts that count against the league’s salary cap ceiling of $73 million, and only thanks to the help of long-term injured reserve (LTIR) relief. Filppula, who signed a five-year deal worth an annual $5 million back in 2013-14, will account for $5 million against their cap for the rest of this season as well as next season should the Lightning decide to keep him on the books.

The Lightning have a rather well-rounded roster in terms of young talent and veteran presence, but unfortunately for them their younger players are looking for raises on their upcoming renewal deals and the veterans on the team are eating up a healthy chunk of the team’s available salary. According to CapFriendly, Filppula, along with veteran forward Ryan Callahan and defenseman Jason Garrison, combine to make up $15.4 million against the team’s cap with only Filppula managing to produce numbers worth his pay. With names like Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Johnson needing new deals at season’s end, does this make Filppula and his $5 million cap hit the most expendable option?

Modified No Trade Clause

The tricky part here in moving Filppula to a new team is the drawback of Filppula’s modified no trade clause (NTC), a part of the veteran’s contract that permits him to submit a 16-team trade list at the end of each season indicating which teams he would not be willing to play for. Filppula will have to be willing to waive his no trade clause in order for Yzerman to start exploring options, but even then he must comply with Filppula’s wishes and try to find a suitor amongst those 14 teams of his choice who are actually willing to bite on a deal. Should the Lightning fail to move him at the deadline, they must protect the Finnish forward from the Las Vegas expansion team who will be joining the league for the 2017-18 season.

Worth Trading At All?

With 29 points (22 assists) and an even plus/minus rating, you have to imagine that teams would be willing to take on Filppula and his contract for the remainder of this season and next if they feel he fits their needs. At 32-years-old and still capable of playing a productive two-way game, teams that are able to fit his cap hit will certainly be inquiring about his services, especially teams who find themselves in a playoff hunt closer to the trade deadline on Feb. 28.

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The return on Filppula will be the deal-breaker here, however, as the Lightning believe they are in a playoff hunt of their own and fully capable of making a Stanley Cup run come the spring. Given all of the contract issues facing the Lightning both now and in the near future, this may be their last kick at the can for a while and they may want to be all-in if they decide to make the run for it while the band’s still all together. If the return on Filppula is going to be strictly mid-high to middle round draft picks, or even middle-tiered prospects, is it really worth trading your top veteran forward before the playoffs come around?

The best reason the Lightning have for trading Filppula, outside of obvious cap issues, is their unique depth at center. The Lightning have Filppula, Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Brayden Point, Brian Boyle, Cedric Paquette and captain Steven Stamkos who are all capable of playing center when called upon. However, given all of the injuries the Lightning have sustained this season, it may not be a bad idea to hold onto Filppula going into the playoffs and better the team’s chances of going deep into contention for hockey’s holy grail.

Yzerman has a lot of pondering to do this next month regarding Filppula and the cap crunch that the Lightning are forced to deal with, but if we’ve seen anything from Yzerman over these last few years, it’s that he knows how to get deals done and make the salary cap almost work for him. How will he choose to deal with this scenario?