We are now a few days into August, the last full month with no hockey. When the offseason was just starting, we all had no idea what was going to take place over the course of the Summer. Now, we have almost all of the answers. With all of the re-signings this summer, and once the team and winger Nikita Kucherov agree to a deal, General Manager Steve Yzerman will have to make a move to move in an effort to create cap space.
As of right now with Kucherov and defenseman Nikita Nesterov both still unsigned restricted free agents, the Lightning has right around $6.5 million in cap space to work with. Yzerman has said a number of times that he wants to retain both Kucherov and Nesterov. Assuming Kucherov will receive a deal of around the $6 million per year mark, that would leave roughly half a million dollars for D Nikita Nesterov. Nesterov’s worth is probably somewhere around the $750,000 per year range. Putting two and two together this would mean that if Yzerman wants to keep both Kucherov and Nesterov, as well as planning for the contracts of future free agents, a move will have to be made.
If you talk to Lightning fans, whether it be on Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else, most people agree that the smart thing to do is to trade center Valtteri Filppula. The now 32-year-old center signed a 5 year, $25 million contract in July of 2013, carrying a $5 million cap hit in each year of his contract.
In his first year with the Lightning, Filppula was impressive. In 75 games, Filppula had 25 goals and 33 assists. In his second year, Filppula’s point total went down from 58 in the previous year, to 48 with 12 goals and 36 assists, even with a full 82 games played. This past year, Filppula’s production went down drastically where he netted just 8 goals, and recorded 23 assists in 75 games.
Yes, Filppula is a good defensive forward, he has been a regular on the penalty kill for the Lightning, and he does his share of good things that go unnoticed, but it is his $5 million cap hit that is the problem. Especially with the re-signing of center Vladislav Namestnikov, whom Yzerman said they see in a center role and will begin to receive a larger role, as well as the upcoming free agency of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin, Brian Boyle, Andrej Sustr, Slater Koekkoek, and the big unknown, Ben Bishop, it is easy to see why Filppula is the prime candidate to be traded by Yzerman.
The challenging part for Yzerman is that Filppula has a modified no-trade clause in his contract. This means that Filppula will have to give the OK to be traded, and teams he would or would not like to join. Although I think everyone has learned that it is almost impossible to predict what Yzerman is going to do, I will try to take a look at teams that could potentially trade Filppula, who has 2 years left on his deal.
I know what you’re thinking. “Edmonton doesn’t need any more forwards, or especially centers.” While it is true that the Oilers are very deep at center led by Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton has been looking to improve their defense since, well, forever. Adding Filppula to be a bottom-6 more defensive-minded center/winger could be a smart move for GM Peter Chiarelli who has taken some heat for trading away Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson.
If moved to Edmonton, Filppula wouldn’t have to worry about carrying a big offensive load because that will be the job for Edmonton’s many young and talented forwards. Filppula would be able to do what he does best: be a 3rd line forward focusing on defense first, which could really help out an Edmonton team that gave up an average of 2.95 goals per game in 2015-2016, the 4th worst in the NHL. Edmonton currently has the 5th most cap space in the NHL with just over $9.2 million in cap room. This would make it easier to take on Filppula’s $5 million cap hit for the next two years.
Much like the Edmonton Oilers. Dallas does not necessarily need, or are looking to add forwards. Everyone knows that the Stars are an offensive machine, leading the league with a goals per game average of 3.23. So why could Dallas be a possible spot for Filppula? One reason is because the question mark with the Stars is defense and goaltending. Much like he could with Edmonton, Filppula could slip into a bottom-6 forward role with Dallas and immediately help their defensive game, which was in the bottom half of the league in 2015-2016, giving up 2.78 goals per game.
The second reason Dallas could be where Filppula goes is Ben Bishop. Most Lightning fans have accepted the fact that either Andrei Vasilevskiy or Ben Bishop will have to be moved. With Vasilevskiy signing a 3-year contract extension this offseason, and Bishop being due to be a free agent after this year, it appears Bishop is more likely to go. The rumors have been going around that Dallas is very interested in acquiring Bishop. Yzerman could see it as an opportunity to add Filppula to a deal involving Bishop.
Dallas has a few interesting players that Yzerman could target in a trade such as 20-year-old right-handed defenseman Julius Honka. Dallas has just under $8 million in cap room right now with Valeri Nichushkin still to sign, which would make acquiring both Bishop and Filppula somewhat difficult, but certainly not impossible since Yzerman could be willing to take back one of their goalies, Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi, to back up Andrei Vasilevskiy if that is the direction the team chooses.
St. Louis Blues
During the 2015-2016 season, it was rumored that the Blues were looking to add a center. At that time, the Jonathan Drouin saga was going on, and scouts from both Tampa and St. Louis were watching the other team’s games. There was speculation that St. Louis was looking at both Drouin and Filppula at the time and that the Lightning could be interested in a defenseman like Kevin Shattenkirk. The Blues had injuries on the blue line that ended up squashing those rumors closer to the deadline.
Obviously Drouin isn’t going anywhere anymore, but could the Blues be a trade partner for Filppula? I say yes. The Blues saw their captain David Backes leave during free agency, creating an opening at center. Although the Blues have some talented prospects at center, headlined by 20-year-old Ivan Barbashev, I would not expect to see them in the NHL this year at least to start. Filppula would be a good fit for the Blues and Ken Hitchcock who likes to play with a strong defensive system.
The Blues do however have some salary cap issues. Currently they have around $3.9 million in cap space, which would make it hard to acquire Filppula and his $5 million cap hit. However, rumors have been flying around that the Blues would like to trade defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who makes $4.25 million, before he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2016-2017 season.
If Shattenkirk is traded, the Blues would have the cap space to trade for Filppula who would fit a need for them, as well as fitting their style of play. The other alternative is for Yzerman to retain some of Filppula’s salary to make a deal work.
The Coyotes are a team filled with young forward talent such as Dylan Strome, Max Domi, and Anthony Duclair. Their prospect pool also has an impressive number of talented prospects, forwards and defenders. It is easy to say that Arizona doesn’t need to trade for a player like Filppula. However, Arizona’s 27-year-old GM John Chayka just bought out Antoine Vermette. This created speculation that a trade could be coming.
That could be possible. With so much young offensive talent, Arizona could be looking to add a veteran defensive forward such as Filppula to go along with captain Shane Doan to help groom the young players. Arizona has the cap room to acquire Filppula, they currently sit at just barely under $8.85 million in cap room but also have nearly $5 million in room they can create by putting Chris Pronger on Long Term Injured Reserve.
Steve Yzerman has already traded with the new GM Chayka back at the draft when Anthony DeAngelo was traded for Arizona’s 2nd round pick. If Arizona does not feel that some of their young forwards are ready for the NHL, Filppula could be a viable option to trade for, and Yzerman would have a deep pool of prospects to acquire to choose from. Maybe Yzerman could get D Oliver Ekman-Larsson? Ok, probably not, but it’s worth asking for, right?
Carolina could be the most likely team to make a trade for Filppula. They traded captain Eric Staal at the trade deadline last year. The Canes have some decent prospects at center, but they are all a few years away from being NHL ready. Carolina has 2 solid centers in Jordan Staal, and Victor Rask who they just signed to a 6 year contract this offseason. After that, their 3rd and 4th centers would be 33-year-old Jay McClement, and Derek Ryan. Yikes.
Newly acquired Teuvo Teravainen could play center, but will more likely be a winger in a top-6 role. Nonetheless, Carolina has a need at center. There have been some rumors flying around the Twitter world that reported Carolina was interested in trading for Filppula, but the accuracy of those rumors and reports remain to be seen. The rumor does make sense, however.
Carolina needs to add some help on offense to get them into the playoffs (They finished the year averaging just 2.39 goals per game, 4th worst in the NHL), and even though Filppula probably won’t light up the scoresheet on a nightly basis, he certainly could help with his playmaking ability. Even though the Canes were 18th in the league last year in goals allowed per game at 2.70, they should be a strong defensive team lead by star D Justin Faulk, and top-5 pick Noah Hanifin, among others.
Yzerman could be interested in a trade with Carolina because their system has a good amount of young defensive talent, along with extra draft picks in rounds 2 and 3 of next year’s draft that Yzerman might covet. Carolina also currently has the most cap space of any team in the NHL putting them in a position to take assets in exchange for taking on salary obligations.