Filppula will be a free agent at the end of the season. Last year, he had the best season of his career. The hope was that he build on that his year. His 23 goals were seven better than his previous high and his 43 assists were 15 above his best. This gave him 66 points, well above his career-high of 40.
Beyond the offensive output, he also played better defense. He looked like he was taking the next step and joining Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk as the scoring leaders of the team.
However, this season has been very different. Instead of improving or at least continuing last season’s success, he has fallen off the pace.
In 19 games, he only has four goals and six assists. Perhaps more telling is that when he has a good game, he had a very good game. For example, his six assists have come in only four games. He has had a tendency to disappear for long stretches this season.
Goals do not always tell the entire story. Even with his current pace, he would score 17 goals during a full season. What is a concern is his shooting percentage. After shooting a .139 and .160 the past two seasons, he had dropped to .118. Last year he had 1.77 shots per game; this year is virtually the same at 1.78.
He is getting the same amount of opportunities as last season—he just is not taking advantage of them. His shooting percentage is even below his .129 career average.
This team needs to figure out if Filppula peaked last season or if he is just suffering from a slow start. There are a couple of issues that weigh heavily on this and may force the team to make a move.
First, this is a contract year for Filppula as he is a free agent after the season. This will be the first offseason under the new CBA, so it is uncertain what the market will be like. Filppula will make $3 million this season and will obviously be looking for a raise. Another strong season would have made that easy, but with the season he has had so far, that will be in question.
The younger players have also been given a chance this season. Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson have played very well this season. Their stats are similar to Filppula’s despite playing in less games and averaging at least six minutes less per game than Filppula.
Gustav Nyquist presents another issue. He is on the last year of his entry level contract. Next season the team will have to make room on the roster for him or risk losing him. Damien Brunner is yet another young player who has made his mark. The team leader in goals is only on a one-year deal.
This makes for a crowded list of players. Of course, any of the young players mentioned would draw interest in the trade market but so would Filppula.
Despite the slow start to this season, there is no doubting that Filppula is a talented player. He will not turn 30 until next season. There will definitely be a market for him via trade or free agency.
The team may not want to trade him away as he is a valuable part of the team. However, if he can be replaced for a player making less money but producing at the same level, then in a salary cap world that would be the right move.
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