Flyers Centers: How Filppula Acquisition May Change Deployment

With the Flyers missing the playoffs it’s time to reflect on a throw-away season. The team finished as well as anyone expected them to; Not officially falling out of the playoff race until the last couple weeks of the season. Make no mistake this was a bubble team at best, a team rebuilding “on the fly”, not a true playoff threat.

With that in mind the Flyers have an interesting group of young players who are improving, with a good (but aging) core already in place. Results should improve. They also made one key acquisition at the trade deadline that will have legitimate ramifications moving forward. I’m talking about the trading of potential retiree Mark Streit to the Tampa Bay Lightning (and then to the Penguins) for veteran centerman Valtteri Filppula.

Valterri Filppula (via

Valterri Filppula (via

The acquisition of Filppula by Flyers’ General Manager Ron Hextall was one of the best moves at the 2017 Trade Deadline. Philadelphia traded a declining 39-year-old for 33-year-old Filppula along with 4th, and 7th Round picks in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Tampa Bay were in a cap crunch scenario approaching Free Agency this off-season and Filppula was the odd man out. Hextall swooped in a got a middle-6 Forward for basically.. well.. nothing. The only negative is his $5 million price tag (for 1 more season) and right now the Flyers can easily take that contract on.

It was/is expected that Filppula should take on some tough defensive assignments while also contributing a bit on the scoresheet; something in the neighbourhood of 40-ish points. So right away let’s jump into Even Strength ice time and see what’s happened with the Flyers’ Centermen as a group since the trade.

Disclaimer: It’s difficult to put too much stock into how players were deployed down the stretch as the Flyers gradually fell out of the playoffs. As such I’ve eliminated the last 2 regular season games from this analysis. I based this on the fact that some young guys were getting call-ups and deployment would have been even more irregular than usual for this time of year. The rest of this article will look at possible trends that may emerge heading into next season in terms of forward deployment.

Even Strength Ice Time

Time on Ice (5v5) Before/After Filppula Trade (stats via Natural Stat Trick)

Time on Ice (5v5) Before/After Filppula Trade (stats via Natural Stat Trick)

The big takeaway here is that the 5v5 ice time has been lumped more towards the middle of the line-up. Giroux, Bellemare, and Cousins all saw a decrease in ice time (although Cousins had recently been scratched). While Couturier, Filppula, and Schenn (who can now move to a wing full time) all saw an uptick in 5v5 time on ice.

This is exactly how I would like to see the forwards used next season. The top 3 lines centered by Giroux, Couturier and Filppula should almost be interchangeable at Even Strength. If Giroux’s ice time drops a bit at 5v5 that’s okay because he can then focus his energy on the Powerplay where he’s among the NHL’s elite. With 2 strong centermen occupying the middle 6 slots there’s no need to parade Bellemare’s line 4 out for an offensive draw either. Thus a decrease in his Even Strength ice time also seems logical.

Even Strength Defensive Deployment

Defensive Deployment Before/After Filppula Trade (stats via Natural Stat Trick)

Def. Deployment (Neutral Zone Draws Excluded) Before/After Filppula Trade (stats via Natural Stat Trick)

Three things about this graph are very striking to me. These are massive, but good changes from the pre-Filppula era.

  • Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s line 4 has been jammed into the defensive zone almost 70% of the time!
  • Brayden Schenn has been shifted down the line-up to a more defensive role and is now on the wing full time.
  • There seems to be a lot more defensive draws in the ‘After’ section which probably means the Flyers were leading more games during this period.

Before Filppula’s acquisition Bellemare’s line 4 saw an almost 50/50 offensive vs. defensive role.. which should just blow your mind. The Bellemare/Vandevelde combo is probably one of the least talented offensive duos in the entire league, and they were getting a good many offensive draws. For the sake of the team improving, I REALLY hope this new defensive deployment is how Hakstol plans on using PEB next year.

Cousins saw a bit of time in a more offensive role, but as I said he was scratched for a couple of games (very limited sample). Filppula himself was given a fairly heavy defensive role at nearly 55% defensive draws and that’s kind of what was expected; a bit of a heavier defensive assignment than he had in Tampa. Claude Giroux also saw his defensive draws increase to nearly 50/50 which is fine, but I’d much rather see him deployed heavily in the Offensive Zone.

Somehow Dave Hakstol found a way to actually increase Couturier’s defensive deployment to more than a 60/40 split! Since this is a limited sample I’m sure it had to do with a bit of randomness in the games being played. However it’s entirely possible that the Couturier/Schenn/Weise line was seeing an increase in defensive zone deployment, but ALSO a decrease in quality of competition faced.

That decrease in quality of opposition faced would seem to fall in line with the fact that Filppula was now handling some of the tougher match-ups. This line of thinking is backed up by the Shot Share graph below.

Even Strength Shot Share

Shot Share Before/After Filppula Trade (stats via Natural Stat Trick)

Shot Share (Shots For vs. Shots Against) Before/After Filppula Trade (stats via Natural Stat Trick)

Both Bellemare and Filppula were hemmed into their own zone. Bellemare’s lack of shot production is simply because of his nearly 70% defensive deployment. Filppula’s is likely because he was taking on some of the oppositions best forwards. With just over 45% Shot Share he had a tough time getting the puck up the ice. Next year he’ll probably get a steady diet of that so be prepared for a potential slide in production.

The Couturier/Schenn combo however saw a huge uptick in shot production and were riding a fantastic looking hot streak to end the season. Given their heavy defensive deployment that wouldn’t seem to make sense. The easiest explanation for that increased production is a decrease in hard match-ups defensively (i.e. they may have been starting in the defensive zone more, but against worse players).

Giroux’s slight increase in Shot Share seems negligible, but is somewhat noteworthy considering he had more defensive starts. Cousins’ significant increase in shots is easily explained by his more slanted offensive deployment, and by his sample being the smallest of the group.

Summary of Deployment Since Filppula Trade

  • Claude Giroux
    • Decrease in Even Strength Ice Time
    • Defensive Deployment Increased
    • Slight Increase in Shot Share
  • Sean Couturier
    • Increase in Even Strength Ice Time
    • Defensive Deployment Increased
    • Increase in Shot Share
  • Brayden Schenn
    • Increase in Even Strength Ice Time
    • Deployment went from 2/3 Offensive to 2/3 Defensive as he moved permanently to Couturier’s LW
    • Increase in Shot Share
  • Valterri Filpulla
    • Increase in Even Strength Ice Time
    • Defensive Deployment Increased
    • Decrease in Shot Share
  • Nick Cousins
    • Decrease in Even Strength Ice Time
    • Defensive Deployment Decreased
    • Significant Increase in Shot Share
  • Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
    • Decrease in Even Strength Ice Time
    • Defensive Deployment Heavily Increased
    • Decrease in Shot Share
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