Mere days after Nicklas Lidstrom had lifted the Stanley Cup as the first European Captain to win the Stanley Cup, and not moments after the last shred of confetti fell on Woodward Avenue, Ken Holland sat in his office, set to get to work retaining the key pieces necessary to the freshly-finished Stanley Cup championship.
The grizzled vets, Dallas Drake and Dominik Hasek would take care of themselves, as they would ride off into the sunset as champions. The superstar emergence of Henrik Zetterberg wouldn't become a headache for another year. And Brad Stuart, fresh off yet another move at the trade deadline, was likely looking to stay put, at least for another year.
And so, when the name Valterri Filppula was next, a decision had to be made, one that was no doubt a difficult one.
You see Filppula had, at the tender age of 23, just proved his value on the league's biggest stage. He had put up an impressive 36 points in his second season in the NHL, and had chipped in another 11 throughout the remarkable playoff run the Red Wings had. He was crucial as a third line centre, and looked to be yet another stellar two way forward destined for super stardom in the Motor City.
So, Holland made a decision. He decided to buy future value at a low price, and in the mean time overpay for Filppula's growing years. And thus, Filppula and the Red Wings inked a five year deal that would pay him $3 million a season, an overpayment at first, and hopefully and underpayment towards the end.
Flash forward to the start of this year, and Filppula's role on the Red Wings had become one of contention. Was he valuable? Should the Red Wings use him as trade bait? Was the five years of good faith that the Red Wings awarded him just another misplaced, misjudged contract extension? Or would this finally be the year that he broke out and proved the Red Wings brass his true value?
As we sit at roughly the halfway point of the season, Filppula has put up 15 goals, 22 assists and sits at a very healthy +11. He is two points away from tying his output from last year, and three points from tying his career high. He is providing speed and phenomenal stick work on a line with Henrik Zetterberg, and using his responsible two-way play to provide immeasurable value at both ends of the ice.
In short, Filppula has (finally) arrived, a process that many hoped would have happened two years ago, but something that has instead taken four, though not all of it Fil's fault.
After inking the extension, Filppula ran into a series of misfortunes. First, it was being blocked on the depth chart by free agent acquisition Marian Hossa, which saw his ice time dwindle. Then it was a catastrophic broken wrist that saw him miss 26 games. Last year, it was a knee injury that saw him miss significant time, and blocked him from establishing any sort of rhythm to his game, and forced him to try and catch up to his lost time.
But this year, with Zetterberg and fellow waiting-for-a-breakout Jiri Hudler, Filppula is finally playing like the offensive dynamo the Red Wings saw all those years ago. His confidence is improved. His vision is excellent. And he's averaging over 1.5 shots per game, capitalizing on chances, and playing hard.
While it's no secret the Red Wings are thinner up front then they have been in years, Filppula's finally proving the doubters wrong. He's picking up the offensive slack, and allows the Red Wings two Datsyuk-type players instead of simply Datsyuk.
And the best part? He's only 27 years old, and primed for more. And that's news that should make Red Wings fans extremely excited for the future.