Detroit — Steve Yzerman says he does not feel much like skating, these days, that he has done it “only two or three times” since he retired and that he does not even own a pair of skates.
Valtteri Filppula went into action Saturday leading the league in shooting percentage — that is the proportion of goals to shots. That from Filppula, a guy the Red Wings would beg to shoot more during seven seasons in Detroit and from whom they hoped for more scoring.
How is that for a couple of big surprises from prodigal sons during their homecoming this weekend?
What? You expected a crate of citrus fruit from the two Floridians?
Believe me, they have moved on.
Between Yzerman probably feeling like he must pour himself into the project of making the Lightning a contender for the Stanley Cup and walking on a leg he probably should have stopped skating on about five seasons before he retired, do not hold your breath on The Captain playing against the Maple Leafs alumni, Dec. 31, in Comerica Park.
It could still happen, I suppose. But Yzerman is making it clear it is not a top priority for the vice-president and general manager of the Tampa Bay club, which is in first place in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference this morning.
After that, all Yzerman must do is select and train the team to repeat as the Olympic gold medal winner, for Canada.
Finding his shot
And while more was expected from Filppula almost perpetually during his seven seasons in Detroit, he certainly has located his mojo on the second line in Tampa, where he is filling a significant hole created by Yzerman’s courageous decision to buy out the franchise player for the Lightning, Vincent Lecavalier.
It was old home week at Joe Louis Arena this week, with old friends who played in Stanley Cup winning games, like Yzerman and Filppula, and former brass from the glory years, like Jim Nill, returning.
There always is some wistfulness related to these events, including the fond wish to see Yzerman skating again, in a red uniform, with the white number 19 on his back. And there is some envy when a player leaves and is suddenly producing in a way that was desired by his old team and their fans.
So, when Filppula’s name topped the chart in shooting percentage, six goals on 17 shots for 35.3 percent, it conjured some questions.
“He says he’s shooting more,” Henrik Zetterberg said.
Indeed, Filppula and Zetterberg led all shooters with six apiece, during the Red Wings’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Lightning Saturday. It was more than one-third of the shots Filppula took during the previous 15 games this season and considerably more than he took in many of the 251 games he played for the Wings.
“Yeah, I don’t know, I feel like I haven’t done things, differently,” Filppula said, before the game. “Sometimes it goes in better than other times.
“It’s a long season. So, I’m sure you guys will be asking the other question, why isn’t it going in, later on.”
Zetterberg is one of several players who took Filppula to his favorite place to eat around town Thursday night and then made him pick up the tab, as apparently is tradition when a player who leaves catches up to his pals again.
And, make no mistake: The Red Wings miss Filppula personally. Several made that clear, throughout the day.
They certainly could use his new scoring punch.
Ken Holland made clear that after trying to sign Filppula to a long contract, after his 66-point performance in 2011-12, Filppula did not follow it with a strong year in 2013 after the owners’ lockout.
“We had a brief conversation, his agent and I on July 1, prior to us signing (Stephen) Weiss, and Fil signing in Tampa,” said Holland during the morning skate.
“And I think at the end, you know, we felt it was time for some change.
“But, certainly, Fil’s a real good player and he’s been a good addition to Tampa.”
Filppula was asked why he chose Tampa Bay.
Yzerman, he answered.
“There was a lot of different things that matter. But one big thing was Yzerman being there and kind of wanting me on the team. And when a player like that wants you on the team, it feels good. And that was definitely one of the deciding factors.”
Ah, captain, my captain! Players once wanted to play with Yzerman. Now, they want to play for him.
Shift in priorities
And the fact of the matter is, the more Yzerman returns to Detroit with his new club, the more he seems entirely dedicated to his responsibilities.
His job was once to return the Stanley Cup to Detroit. Now, plainly, he appears entirely about returning it to Tampa.
Asked about playing the alumni game, as if it was the most important pending question about him in Detroit, Yzerman made clear it is not a priority for him.
“I haven’t really given it much thought,” he said. “I’ve been pretty busy with our team and watching a lot of hockey games for the Olympics. So, I really haven’t thought about it at all yet.”
Has he discussed it with Holland?
“Um, no, we haven’t really talked about it.”
Would he consider stopping by Comerica Park on New Year’s Eve day?
“Well, we’ll see what my schedule is. I haven’t really looked that far ahead.”
Yzerman is plainly intent on signaling his singular focus for all the world to see: Building winners. One in Tampa, and one for all of Canada at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, four months from now.
“You know, I guess all I really do is watch hockey games. When the puck drops to start the season, pretty much six, seven nights a week, you’re watching a game,” Yzerman said, almost in disbelief.
“The good thing is, now, with the internet, a minor league team, I can watch their games in the morning.”
With the Wings in dire need of secondary scoring, Filppula — whom Yzerman asserted was “a very good player, when he was in Detroit” — seems perhaps more attractive than when he left.
As for Yzerman and the alumni game against the Maple Leafs? Something tells me he may attend but not play.
I am not sure that knee needs any more abuse. And it would be nice to see Yzerman walking, in his old age.
We can allow him that, can we not?
Meanwhile, Yzerman seems utterly intent on sending a strong message to his players and their fans: I am with you now. What is past, is past.
And the Lightning is now, and Canada is just a few months down the road.
“I don’t even own a pair of skates,” Yzerman said. “So, I may have to take up a collection.
“I really enjoy being in management. I love watching the game. I like being in the rinks. But I just really don’t have a desire to put the skates back on.”