TORONTO – Valtteri Filppula was close enough to becoming a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs before the NHL trade deadline that he received a phone call from Mike Babcock.
“We had a good conversation,” Filppula said Thursday. “Obviously, I’ve known him for a while so it was nice to catch up.”
Evidently, it wasn’t good enough to change his mind about the possibility of coming to Toronto.
The 32-year-old Finn had a clause in his contract where he could name the 16 teams that the Tampa Bay Lightning could trade him to. The Leafs weren’t on that list and Filppula wasn’t comfortable adding them.
He and agent Markus Lehto had spent considerable time over the summer weighing the merits of each potential city.
“I had made a list earlier and just decided to stick with the list,” said Filppula. “I think everything at the trade deadline comes at you really quick. When you do those things (in the summer) you have a little bit more time to think about things.
“So I just wanted to stick with that.”
As a result, he ended up getting sent to the Philadelphia Flyers along with a fourth-round pick and a conditional seventh-rounder in exchange for Mark Streit. His fourth game in a Flyers sweater brought him to the Air Canada Centre to face Toronto on Thursday night.
While a number of teams are believed to have shown interest in him leading up to the deadline — both those on his trade list and off — the Leafs put on a full-court press.
They tried to leverage the fact that Filppula and Babcock had spent eight seasons together in Detroit, winning the Stanley Cup in 2008. The veteran centre had kind words about his former coach.
“I felt like he taught me to play the right way, play well defensively and after that the good things will happen offensively as well,” he said. “Obviously, I was really fortunate in Detroit having so many good players to kind of look at what they do on and off the ice. So I feel really lucky about that.”
If Babcock had any bad feelings about Filppula’s decision not to join the Leafs, you wouldn’t have known judging by the way he talked about him prior to Thursday’s game.
“No. 1, he’s a real good man, a real good person, does things right, good pro,” said Babcock. “Two, is he’s a real good skater, can play with and without the puck, and distributes it well.”
So what kept him from Toronto?
For starters, he’s under contract for one more season on a $5-million cap hit. He acknowledged Thursday that he had to account for the fact the Leafs acquired veterans Brooks Laich, Milan Michalek and Colin Greening last year before burying them in the American Hockey League this season.
Even though Filppula has a no-move clause for the purpose of waivers, he couldn’t be sure that he was being acquired for anything more than the extra assets the Leafs would get for taking on his contract.
“That’s part of what you evaluate, but when things happen so quickly it’s tough to put too much thought into it,” said Filppula. “I think that’s why, at least in my case, it was safer to kind of just go with the thoughts that I had before and see how things go from there.”
Despite everything happening behind the scenes over the last month, he says the trade talk didn’t become too big of a distraction from his job on the ice.
Like former teammate Brian Boyle — who ended up in Toronto in another deadline deal — he expected better things from the Lightning this season, and understood that the team’s salary cap crunch would likely lead to changes with them falling short of expectations.
Filppula also appreciated how well-informed Tampa GM Steve Yzerman kept him throughout the process.
“That made it a lot easier for me,” he said.