DETROIT — Written in red on the white walls in the bowels of Joe Louis Arena are the names of those who helped lead the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup championship.
Gordie Howe. Alex Delvecchio. Terry Sawchuk. Steve Yzerman. Nicklas Lidstrom. Pavel Datsyuk. Henrik Zetterberg.
Among the names from the 2007-08 Red Wings championship team is Valtteri Filppula.
Filppula will pass by that wall today, eyeing his name, as he makes his way to the visitor’s locker room for the first time as a member of the Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It’s probably going to feel maybe a little weird, but I’m really happy that I can see that name on there,” Filppula said. “That’s just one of a lot of good memories.”
Filppula spent the first eight years of his NHL career with the Red Wings organization, registering 100 goals and 251 points in 483 games. In 105 playoff games, the 29-year-old added 19 goals and 57 points, and helped Detroit to back-to-back Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009, winning the title in 2008.
At times, Filppula might have been overshadowed by bigger names on the Red Wings’ roster, and perhaps his contributions were undervalued. So, when his contract was up with Detroit at the end of last season, Filppula opted to test the free agent market instead of signing an extension with the Red Wings.
He landed with the Lightning on the first day of free agency, signing a five-year contract worth $25 million to fill a more prominent role with Tampa Bay as the second-line center. After just 15 games, Filppula is third on the team with six goals and 12 points.
“I think he did a lot for that organization, and I think he’s doing a lot for ours,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
It’s not really much of a surprise to Tampa Bay general manager Yzerman that Filppula is proving to be a perfect fit. While in the front office with the Red Wings, Yzerman watched Filppula emerge from the Detroit system as a versatile forward.
“We were looking for a responsible, two-way center that could play in all situations, and he has done that for us,” Yzerman said. “He’s fit in very nicely. I think he’s enjoying playing with the players that we have in the style that we play. But again it was an important position for us, and we just felt he would be a real good fit.
“It is relatively early, but we are pleased with how he has fit in.”
Filppula is not only called on to center the second line, but also he runs the second power-play unit, is one of the first penalty killers to jump over the boards, takes many important faceoffs and often faces the opposition’s top lines.
When it’s time for Tampa Bay to protect a lead late in the game, Filppula is often tapped by Cooper to tackle the assignment.
“He’s just a quiet, confident, calm person,” Cooper said. “He’s stabilized our forward group. He goes a little bit unnoticed in the sense that we have some other guys out there that get more points and they have a little bit bigger name in the game.
“But when you watch the game, he gets those non-hero minutes. He’s out there against the big lines playing big minutes at big times in big games.”
No doubt, Filppula would like to make some noise facing his old team. That is, as long as he can get past the emotions he will feel in the hours and minutes leading to the puck drop.
“It’s definitely going to be an interesting game for the team, and personally as well,” Filppula said of what amounts to a battle for first place in the division. “I spent a lot of time there, I have a lot of good friends on that team, a lot of good memories. It’s probably going to be a little weird to play as the away team at that rink.”