Note: This initial ‘Nuts and Bolts’ feature is the type of player breakdown we will provide following any future trade or free agency acquisitions made by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Filppula and Halpern Faceoff

Valtteri Filppula squares off against Jeff Halpern during a 2011 match. Photo by Clyde.

Having bought out captain Vincent Lecavalier, Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning had a hole in the roster and were in the market for a second line center to play behind Steven Stamkos going forward.

On Friday, July 5, the first day of free agency, the Lightning signed Valterri Filppula, formerly of the Detroit Red Wings, to a 5-year, 25 million dollar contract to fill that hole.

While Filppula was quite a versatile forward for the Red Wings, it’s been made abundantly clear that the plan is to deploy him in the middle of the ice, anchoring what will almost certainly be referred to as the “second line”.

So what kind of player is Filppula? What can the numbers tell us about how he has performed in the past, and what can we expect from him in the future?

Filppula’s surface numbers don’t look great, at least not from this year with Detroit. He finished with just 17 points in 41 games (.41 PPG), a -4 rating, and a 55.4% faceoff winning percentage in his 17:46 of time on ice per game. Those numbers, translated to the Lightning, put him firmly in Tommy Pyatt/Nate Thompson territory. While Pyatt and Thompson are both valuable, useful NHL forwards, Filppula is going to be expected to produce more at more than twice the salary of either guy.

Fortunately, there’s a lot more to investigate than just the numbers tracked on NHL.com. Let’s delve deeper and see what analytics can tell us, starting with a look at Filppula’s usage in 2012-2013, to get a sense of how Mike Babcock deployed him (during 5-on-5 action, the most frequent–and therefore significant–game state for evaluative purposes) in 2012-2013 and if that offers any insight:

12-13_Detroit_FW_5-plus-games

Detroit’s 2012-2013 Player Usage Chart for Forwards with at least 5 games played. Graph by Greg Sinclair.

You can access and manipulate the above graph here. Rob Vollman, with the technical assistance of Robb Tufts, has an alternative graphic available at his site, Hockey Abstract. If this is your first encounter with a player usage chart, Vollman provides a brief explanation:

In the world of hockey statistics, context is everything. Player Usage Charts (PUCs) show how often a player starts in the offensive zone (horizontal axis), against how high a level of competition (vertical axis) and even how well the team does with him playing in those situations (the bubbles).

Given the guidelines (here’s a visual explanation) established in Vollman’s 2011-2012 PUC manual, Filppula falls firmly in the “two-way” (upper right) area of the chart, meaning that while he did get a decent offensive zone start percentage (58.9%) he played against fairly tough competition (5th toughest minutes on the Detroit Red Wings in 2012-2013). Coaches usually expect players in that area of the chart to play a well-rounded, three-zone game.

The blue bubble means that, like Damien Brunner, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, that the team achieved a better Corsi rate when Filppula was on the ice as compared to when he was not, which is commendable given his assignments and ice time, which, after adjusting the previously shown graph, we can quickly gauge his 5-on-5 role in comparison to others on the team:

12-13_Detroit_FW_5-plus-games_TOI

Detroit’s 2012-2013 Player Usage Chart for Forwards with at least 5 games played. Graph by Greg Sinclair.

Filppula, by a narrow margin, was trusted with the 3rd-highest average of 5-on-5 minutes per game.

Factoring in his possession numbers, zone starts, quality of competition and ice time, Filppula closely resembles Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Brunner–not bad company to be included in–and hopefully a good sign for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have made a sizeable investment. The usage charts support most of the rhetoric about Filppula’s game: that he is a good puck possession player and a solid two-way center with above average but not elite offensive ability.

So, we see how Filppula fared, and how he was used, with Detroit, but how does he compare to the crop of UFA centermen that Steve Yzerman chose not to sign, especially players like Vincent Lecavalier, Derek Roy, and Stephen Weiss, who all signed cheaper deals?

David Johnson of Hockey Analysis presented this table in a piece breaking down the available UFA centers heading into the free agent frenzy:

filppula_UFA_cs_stats

Here is Johnson’s key for the stats in the chart:

  • G/60 = Goals per 60 minutes of ice time.
  • A/60 = Assists per 60 minutes of ice time
  • Pts/60 = Points per 60 minutes of ice time.
  • IPP = Individual Points Percentage, or the percentage of goals scored while on ice that the player had a point on.
  • GF20-TMGF20 = How much better are his team mates on-ice goal stats when playing with him than without.
  • FF20-TMFF20 = How much better are his team mates on-ice shot generation when playing with him than without.
  • OZBias = OZ Starts*2 + NZStarts and gives an indication of the players usage.

And, his analysis of Filppula:

“Better goal scorer than Ribeiro but not as good as a play maker as Ribeiro but better than the rest. [...] Filppula is pretty solid all round as well and has the flexibility of being used as either a center or a winger (which is valuable if locking in long-term).”

The most obvious comparison to make here, as Filppula is ostensibly replacing him in the lineup, is to former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier. The good news for Lightning fans is that, as far as Lecavalier replacements go, the numbers show that Filppula is actually a solid one. He posted a similar goals/60 minutes rate to Lecavalier and a significantly better assists/60 rate, leading to an overall better point production rate. Time on ice is left off this particular table, but that data can be culled from Behind the Net instead. Filppula played 13.82 of even strength TOI/60 (3rd on the Detroit Red Wings) , while Lecavalier averaged 14.29 TOI/60 (3rd on the Lightning).

So, with less actual ice time, Filppula was actually more productive than Lecavalier. And, with Tampa Bay, it is likely that his role will grow, with expectations he will play 2nd line center minutes (and the 2nd unit power play time that will likely go with it).

That helps clarify Filppula’s numbers in comparison to Lecavalier’s, but it is also important to analyze how Filppula’s production was trending without comparing him to other players to see how he has progressed (or declined) as an NHL player over the past five years.

What follows are two more Hockey Analysis charts displaying Filppula’s zone-start adjusted 5v5 point production and 5v5 possession rates for the years 2007-2008 through 2012-2013.

filppula__ZS_pointproduction

filppula__fenwickcorsirates

 

As you can see, his possession numbers contain a lot less variance whereas his point production steadily increased from 2007-08 until 2011-2012 before steeply dropping off in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season.

However, his possession numbers from ’11-’12 to ’12-’13 actually increased, contradicting the decline in scoring and indicating that the lack of point production in 2013 (Filppula managed just 17 points in 41 games versus 66 points in 81 the year before) is perhaps unduly influenced by bad luck.

To test that theory, we’ll investigate Filppula’s on-ice shooting and save percentages (or PDO) to see how lucky or unlucky he really was over the past few seasons and if we can perhaps attribute some of his poor performance in 2013 to a relatively small sample size (just 41 games, a half season’s worth of data) and some bad luck.

 

Online Graphing
Graphing via ChartGo.com

As we can see, Filppula’s PDO has bounced around a lot since 2007. (The dotted line represents 1000, where PDO regresses to over large samples). It reached its peak in 2011-2012, which fits with what we already know given his career year in points that season (66 in 81 games). But by the same token, Filppula’s sharp drop off in production in 2012-2013 can be at least partly attributed to bad luck. Filppula’s PDO hit a career-low 979 in 2013, mostly due to the team shooting a woeful 5.94% with him on the ice despite Filppula maintaining a solid 11.5% shooting percentage himself.

So what we’re really seeing is a tale of two Filppulas: the 2011-2012 version, which shot at a rate well higher than should be expected and exceeded what expectations for him should be with the Lightning, and the 2012-2013 version, which hit a demonstrable cold streak and will likely rebound next season as his PDO regresses back towards 1000 even as he acclimates to a new town, team, and linemates.

Providing further context for Filppula’s down year in 2013 were a couple of off season injuries that prevented him from completing his typical off season training regimen.

 

 

With the minor ankle injury sustained during this year’s playoffs now healed, he will be entering his first season with Tampa Bay in much better shape than he did his last with Detroit.

If forced to make a projection, my inclination would be to guess that a reasonable expectation for Filppula in 2013 with Tampa Bay would be somewhere in between the highs of 2012 and the lows of 2013 (something like 15 goals and 40-45 assists for 55-60 points) which would spell an adequate but unspectacular return on the 5-year, 25 million dollar investment the club has made.