The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/20/13 at 01:06 PM ET
I spent a significant chunk of last night's recap wondering whether Valtteri Filppula's playing his way out of town given his status as an unrestricted free agent-to-be, the salary cap going down this summer while several of the Wings' top prospects are coming off their entry-level deals, given the NHL-readiness of players like Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Tomas Tatar, and especially given that the struggling Filppula could be parlayed into part of a package for a much-needed top-pair defenseman.
Today, the Free Press's Helene St. James calls Filppula out , suggesting that he may have been the non-Jakub Kindl-centered target of Wings coach Mike Babcock's suggestion that several players didn't show up prepared to play, and she wonders where FIlppula's future lies with the Wings, and whether he can salvage his career in Detroit before it's too late:
The Detroit Red Wings are one-third of the way through their season, making it entirely fair to ask: What's up with Valtteri Filppula? Filppula has one point the last six games, eight points overall in 16 games. This despite playing 10 games as a wingman next to Pavel Datsyuk. This despite also seeing time next to Henrik Zetterberg, with whom Filppula had such sparkling chemistry last season. This despite being a regular on the power play.
This first month's worth of games has been a struggle for the Wings, which is bad because one look at what's ahead in March and April, and it's hard to think that won't be a bigger struggle, what with being on long road trips more than half the time.
Injuries have piled up with such regularity -- goalie Jimmy Howard joined the list during Tuesday's 4-3 overtime loss at Nashville -- it's hard to keep track. But through all that, a few guys have maintained momentum, have been what general manager Ken Holland calls "every day" performers. First and foremost, the captain, Zetterberg, has been fantastic, with 21 points. Ditto for Datsyuk, who has a team-high eight goals among 18 points. Those two are stars in their own stratosphere, of course, but Filppula shouldn't lag as far behind as he is. He hasn't even played like an "every other day" guy, and that's bad for him and worse for the Wings.
This is a contract year for Filppula, and the Wings do want him back. He has the potential to be among the NHL's best second-line centers, and they need him all the more given the high probability Datsyuk opts to return to his native Russia after his contract expires following next season.
Filppula, 29 next month, has so many assets: He's fast, he's a nifty passer and he's responsible in his own end. It's what makes his lack of production so frustrating: Filppula so clearly has the talent to be at least a 20-goal scorer/60-point producer, like he finally showed last season, when he reached 66 points, the first time in six seasons he has topped 40.
St. James points out (after noting that Danny Cleary and Kyle Quincey have struggled, too--hey, I can't quote her entire article) that while Filppula's possibly sore MCL may be hampering his play a bit, he's been excused from practice to rest as necessary, and his coach has also repeatedly suggested that Filppula's play is absolutely essential for the team's success going forward, and as such...
The Wings, 7-6-3 and bopping back-and-forth in the nascent playoff picture, badly need Filppula to bear down and be more consistent. Of the eight points he has, three stem from the fourth game of the season. Do the math, and that yields five points over the last 12 games. That's hardly worth the $3-million salary Filppula is drawing (prorated) this season, nor is it bargaining power for his camp in contract negotiations. Given all his skill, Filppula could demand in the $4.5-million range, but he isn't helping himself with this performance.
Filppula's actually earning 48 games' worth of $3.5 million this season, just as Johan Franzen's $3.94 million cap hit belies 99 nights' worth of $5.2 million, but you may or may not have noticed that the Wings' complete inability to screen goaltenders and their even worse than usual power play can be traced in no small part to the fact that Franzen, like Jonathan Ericsson before him (see: Ericsson's absence last season and the precipitous drop-off in the Wings' penalty-killing, which never did recover from Ericsson's injury), is finally actually living up to his potential (though yes, he needs to score more goals, and no, he'll never be Marian Hossa), and even Cleary and Kyle "Hot Mess" Quincey have been something other than mediocre of late.
Filppula may be the most important "secondary scorer" on the team, and he's an injury away from being as important to the team's success as Niklas Kronwall or Jimmy Howard. One way or another, Fil's got to step up, or he's going to be shown the door.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.