Armchair GM – Bring Me A Filppula
Without looking at any numbers or research whatsoever, I can confidently say that an uneducated estimate of Sabres fans that wanted Derek Roy the hell off this team floated around 90%. Give or take 50% (shut up, that’s how math works). Now that he’s a bromigo and set to do Cabo Wabo shots out in Dallas with Jaromir Jagr, the Sabres don’t have a tested and true playmaking, goal scoring center to play top line minutes. I’m going to put a break here, so you just go ahead and click “Read More.”
Tyler Ennis looked dynamite in a second line role in the last stretch of last year. Cody Hodgson was acquired to be a hot young offensive center, and it took him a while to find his groove. Steve Ott is an upgrade across the board over Paul Gaustad. Finally, Cody McCormick is your fourth line guy who will fight and never have a 20 point season again. No, he won’t.
Other than those guys, the only players that have experience taking draws are Ville Leino,
Jochen Hecht, Brad Boyes, and Luke “Will He Fight His Way Out of the Sarlacc” Adam. Yes, Darcy Regier drafted about 30 centers this year, and yes Mikhail Grigorenko is supposed to be an extremely talented guy that could maybe threaten for an NHL roster spot. Forgive our fan base for being a little tired of getting sold on “could be” and banking on development gambles. While I don’t expect this team to trade for Malkin or Thornton, I’d like to see them do more than throw the keys to the franchise at some kids…because I don’t want to repeat 2007-08.
A lot of fans are making a lot of noise about who this team should get to play center. For some reason this list includes Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, and Shane Doan, who all play right wing. As much as I’d love to dump Drew Stafford for one of these guys, it doesn’t exactly fill that center issue. Other free agent options include paying too much money for the absolutely worst idea I’ve ever heard, entrusting your top line role to a 37 year old who left all his goal scoring in 2008, or Kyle Wellwood. Kyle. Wellwood.
So why don’t we look at something that Darcy Regier might actually do. Take what he has in excess (defense), apply it to a team that has that as a need, and look at who makes the most sense to move from there. Someone who has experience, isn’t ancient, can score, is a 2-way guy, but who won’t ripple the locker room. Also he needs to have dynamite hair and a smile that could melt hearts across Lake Erie.
“Lllladies.” (image courtesy Yahoo! Sports)
Valtteri Filppula is at the eye of the perfect storm. First of all, the Detroit Red Wings are hurting, absolutely aching, for defensemen. With Nicklas Lidstrom retiring, Brad Stuart being traded to the Sharks, and Ryan Suter deciding he wanted to take his talents to South Beach (or, you know…Minnesota) the Red Wings only have 5 defensive players under contract. Kyle Quincey is a restricted free agent as well as a pretty big disappointment. Detroit’s depth at D only lists 7 prospects.
Now what’s a team that has plenty of young and/or talented defensemen to give them?
The Sabres acquired a quiet, stay-at-home NHL caliber defenseman that goes by the name of Adam Pardy (who I will always picture as this). Between Myers, Regehr, Ehrhoff, Sekera, Weber, Sulzer, and Leopold, something’s got to give for young talents like Brayden McNabb, Mark Pysyk, and T.J. Brennan to play some minutes. That something, from the looks of it, is Jordan Leopold.
Leopold is a tremendous value. He puts up solid numbers, plays huge minutes when needed, and has a cap hit of $3 million. He’s unrestricted after this season, so I fully expect him to get moved. Might as well be for the best, right? If the Sabres were willing to pull the trigger, I could see Leopold getting packaged along with an NHL-ready prospect (Detroit would probably want McNabb, but I could see Brennan or even Pysyk being of high value) and a pick in trade for a tested and true center.
Why Filppula? He’s got one season left with a cap hit of $3 million, identical to Leopold. He’s played top line minutes and a center role in Detroit, only pushed to the wing because they have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg able to play the middle of the ice. But, this isn’t the same as obtaining Leino or Boyes and saying “they can move to the middle.” Filppula won 51.7% of his faceoffs last year, which you can compare to Derek Roy’s 50.6%. He played a center role for most of his career in Detroit, and regularly filled that role when Datsyuk or Zetterberg were unable.
In a side-by-side comparison with the Sabres’ departing top line center, Filppula has less points per game, though last season was a bit of a breakthrough for him with a 66 point year. As Sabres fans found out early last year, though, you can place a minor league center in between Vanek and Pominville and they’ll rack up some points. It’s Filppula’s situational stats that catch my eye, though. Last season he scored 16 points in the last 5 minutes, which is comparable to Roy’s 13 points. However, Filppula also only took 4 penalty minutes in the last five minutes, compared to Roy’s 22 PIM.
The general consensus among Wings fans and blogs seems to be that Filppula is a solid 2-way player, who is used to playing a center role. He did flourish in point scoring when moved to the wing, though his role became more strictly offensive. If utilized as someone who could feed the puck to Vanek and Pominville, you’re looking at a player who can win some faceoffs and control the middle of the ice. His ability to score in the playoffs, the fact that he’s only collected 60 penalty minutes in the last three seasons (why yes, that is significantly less than Roy or Hecht), and the fact that he’s won a Stanley Cup make him a solid man to plug in to the Sabres’ top line.
This also grounds the great top line center contest for this season. Grigorenko, Luke Adam, and Cody Hodgson are all eyeing that spot. I may be writing Tyler Ennis out of it only because he played so well with Stafford and Foligno…who would want to break that up? Either way, since Filppula’s a UFA after this season, this would be the year to obtain his skills and have a real competition for that top spot. That way if Hodgson doesn’t work out, or if Adam busts, you’ve got an NHL top 6 center playing with your best players. At this point they’d be moving the logjam from a strength (defense) to a weakness (center). Works for me.
Plus, you know. Great hair.