The Red Wings avoided arbitration with center Valtteri Filppula (his hearing was scheduled for Friday), signing him to a 5 year, $15 million contract this afternoon. This is great news, as the Finn racked up 19 goals and 17 assists in 78 games last season and is only 24 years old. Filppula filed for arbitration at the beginning of the month after rumors began flying around that he might receive an offer sheet, which the Wings may have been hard-pressed to match, having only around $4 million in wiggle room at the time - a move that relieved many fans, confident that a deal would be reached, as it meant Fil would be sticking around one way or another, and was out of offer-sheet reach.
In and of itself, with no concern for where the deal puts the Wings with regard to the salary cap, the deal is a great one. Fil is expected to be a 30 goal scorer in the near future, and given his success on a line with Mikael Samuelsson and Johan Franzen, and the talent he's also shown playing with Pavel Datsyuk, who he may get time with next season if the Marian Hossa signing splits up Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, that's not unlikely. Of Filppula, Holland says,
"We love everything about him because he's a complete player with great character, and we think he can get even better. He plays hard, he plays hurt. He's got great speed and talent along with versatility because he can play left wing or centre.The contract makes Filppula the highest-paid Red Wing forward after Datsyuk and Hossa, which shows how much faith the Wings are putting in the kid's potential. Given his performance last season, despite various slows in production throughout the year, and in the playoffs where he played through a groin injury, it seems the organization's expectations are well founded. After all, who remembers this goal? Pretty good for a kid who looks much too pretty to play hockey.
On the downside, Fil commanding $3 million pushes the Wings right up against the salary cap. The team has yet to resign defenseman Chris Chelios (whose deal was expected to wait until after Fil was resigned), forwards Darren McCarty and Aaron Downey (both of whom the Wings are now interested in signing only to two-way deals), and defense prospect Kyle Quincey - and this is where things start to get dicey. With only $977,667 left in cap space, the Wings will have to make a move before the season starts. The team will carry ten defensemen into the preseason, as Holland states that they're most likely not to make a trade until it is over, only one of whom is not required to clear waivers (Jon Ericsson).
The likeliest trade candidates, therefore, are recently resigned defensemen Andreas Lilja, Brett Lebda, and Quincey, once his contract has been settled. While none of these would be horrendous losses to the Wings, it would of course be nicer to keep them. Personally I find myself worrying over the future of Quincey, NPI's favorite Grand Rapids Griffin, given that despite his performance in the 06-07 playoffs, Ericsson has leapfrogged him as the number one defensive prospect in 07-08. Of the defensive logjam, Holland told the media,
"We'll have to make a decision based on the 23-man roster, the salary cap and age. We'll have to be prepared to trade some players. I would expect there would be interest in some of our players.''Ominous words, and an even more ominous little letter 's' on the end of 'player' there - scary. You almost never want to see players moved, especially players with potential, but if Wings fans have learned anything through these past couple seasons, it should be to trust Ken Holland to make the right decision and get it done. Until he does, here's to painful waiting and hoping for the best - and congratulations to Val Filppula on signing a great contract and staying with a great team for the next five years.