Charron: What's happened to Joffrey Lupul's production?

Cam Charron
January 29 2014 12:59PM

Between 2012 and 2013, only nine players could boast the following statement: "I played at least 80 games over those two seasons, and registered at least one point per game." 

Those players? Nick Backstrom, Glaude Giroux, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Jason Spezza, Martin St. Louis, and, of course, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.

Looking at that alone it may be tough to gauge why Lupul has just 30 points in his 46 games this year—15 goals and 15 assists—and he's been notably struggling of late. Since returning from injury, he's been held without a point in each except 8 of his 23 games played. He's been held scoreless 26 out of 46 games on the season.

But it isn't all bad.

When Joffrey Lupul re-signed his contract last January, I had this to say:

His shot rate has also declined, likely due to playing alongside a much better winger than him, one that always has the puck.

You don't pay a player more than $5-million a year to not have the puck. Anybody can not have the puck.

I didn't like the extension and I still don't. While there's a cross section of LeafsNation that would love to see Lupul replace Dion Phaneuf as Captain, partially because he is better-spoken, is more handsome, and seems to be more appreciative of the opportunity he's gotten with the Maple Leafs, I think the reality with Lupul is that he has a couple of good years left in him, and then he'll turn 33, and players stop being productive into their 30s, with some exceptions but not many. 

You don't want to bank on any player being an anomaly.

Anyway, to prove you're not alone in thinking these things about Lupul, here's Terry Koshan from Sunday in a level-headed take on the Leafs secondary-scoring woes

Lupul represents an annual salary cap hit of $5.25-million US, which is a lot of dough for someone who hasn’t been scoring with consistency. Lupul had 11 goals in just 16 games last season when he spent much of the lockout-shortened campaign injured, but rediscovering that touch has been elusive. Lupul is third on the Leafs with 137 shots on goal, behind Phil Kessel’s 206 and James van Riemsdyk’s 183, but he is not being paid well to almost score.

Since I first broached the issue of the Leafs secondary scoring, I pointed out that it was really the bottom six and the defence that weren't lighting the lamp. I mentioned that the Leafs defence would probably start scoring more, simply thanks to low percentages at the time and they have, but the Leafs are, unfortunately, a one-line team up front. Nazem Kadri is an excellent hockey player, as is Lupul, but beyond that, we're counting on offence from Nik Kulemin, the few minutes a night Peter Holland gets to play, and the occasional goal from Carter Ashton, Troy Bodie and Jay McClement. Colt Knorr is unfortunately a bit of a write-off, and even once David Bolland gets back, it's not like he was a player who was a scoring machine in Chicago—Bolland has never hit 20 goals and has a 40-point season just once, during a year he shot a career-high 17.1%.

The problem with Lupul, and it was a point I made in the post about the contract, is that he'd played with a ridiculously-high shooting percentage since showing up with the Leafs: in his first 110 games, he'd had a 14.6% shooting percentage, with 45 goals on 308 shots. That's a pace of 34 goals over 82 games.

The easy thing to suggest is that Lupul's shooting percentage has dipped this season compared to the previous two:

  Goals/82 Shots/GP Sh%
2012 31.1 2.89 13.1%
2013 64.4 3.00 26.2%
2014 26.7 3.02 10.8%
       
12-13 36.9 2.91 15.5%
14 26.7 3.02 10.8%

-Hockey Reference 

I don't think anybody really expected Lupul to continue that torrid pace from last season. He jumped in and out of the lineup with various injuries and suspensions but scored like Mario Lemieux when he was lucky enough to play. Still, the dip from 15.5% shooting to 10.8% shooting has been slightly offset by a slight up-tick in shots on goal. 

And that brings us to the crux of this article of ours. 

IF LIVING IS WITHOUT YOU 

I mentioned above that the Leafs were paying Lupul a certain premium to score without handling the puck very much: his opposite winger Phil Kessel did much of that. A lot can change in a year, however: Lupul is no longer on the Leafs top line with Kessel and Tyler Bozak. James van Riemsdyk has replaced him up there and is obviously doing well. Despite being taken off the top line, Lupul is still on pace for 27 goals over an 82-game campaign, which is certainly nothing to scoff at. 25-goal 2nd line players are extremely valuable in the NHL and there's a reasonable chance Lupul could hit that if he closes out the year healthy.

Here are some 5-on-5 statistics to tide you over, just looking at the 2011-12, 2013 and 2013-14 seasons. It'll be too time-consuming to separate out the post-deadline 2010-11, so I left that alone. Point being, Lupul's scoring rates at even strength have dipped in this year compared to the last two, in both goals and points. His shots rate, however, also dipped, which surprised me since his shots per game has gone up slightly compared to 2013. What's going on?

  5v5 Goals/60 5v5 Points/60 5v5 Shots/60 Sh%
2012 0.93 2.43 8.78 10.6%
2013 2.36 4.13 8.84 26.7%
2014 0.81 1.61 8.60 9.4%
         
12-13 1.18 2.72 8.79 13.5%
14 0.81 1.61 8.60 9.4%

-Extra Skater

I had a working theory here. Lupul has played just 75 minutes with Phil Kessel this season, during which he's scored 2 goals, 2 points and has 13 shots on net. That's a goals per 60 (and points) rate of 1.60 per 60 minutes and a shots rate of 10.37 per 60 minutes:

  5v5 Goals/60 5v5 Points/60 5v5 Shots/60 Sh%
12-13 w/o Kessel 1.23 2.71 6.89 17.9%
14 w/o Kessel 0.72 1.55 8.49 8.5%
12-13 w Kessel 1.17 2.74 9.33 12.6%
14 w Kessel 1.60 1.60 10.37 15.4%

-Hockey Analysis

Meanwhile, he's played 579 minutes this season (not counting last night's game) without Kessel. Just to add the figures from the previous two seasons together:

  5v5 Goals/60 5v5 Points/60 5v5 Shots/60 Sh%
with Kessel 1.21 2.65 9.41 12.8%
w/o Kessel 0.87 1.89 8.02 10.9%

The difference between playing with Kessel and playing without Kessel looks a lot like our first graph, in playing with Phil (generally) in 12-13 and playing without him (generally) in 2014. You can see that Lupul's points rate without Kessel has slipped considerably from 12-13 to 14, but that looks to be tied to a shooting percentage dipping from 17.9% to 8.5%. Otherwise, his shots rate has increased. I think there's some evidence that Lupul has become a bit of a better player away from Kessel. He's certainly looked the part.

PHIL! PHIL! PHIL! PHIL!

This isn't an effect contained just to Lupul. Check out how other Toronto Maple Leafs forwards who have played on the top line since his arrival, have their goals and points rates change when they're playing without him. The graph includes Lupul's time in Anaheim and van Riemsdyk's in Philadelphia:

Other than James van Riemsdyk getting a similar amount of goals per 60 with Kessel as opposed to without, Lupul's drop is no different than, say, Nik Kulemin's. Lupul still out-produces van Riemsdyk without Kessel scoring-wise, and is probably the better option to have on a line without Phil.

This isn't completely to absolve King Joffrey of his sins. He gets hurt a lot, he was never as good of a scorer as his numbers indicated (percentages dictated his output, mostly) and he's still a bit of a defensive horror show. That said, if you're looking to point the finger at anybody for the Leafs' secondary-scoring woes, point it away from the 2nd line player on pace for 22 goals and 45 points—those are above-average numbers for 2nd line players, and I didn't even touch on in this post that he's been taken off the first powerplay unit as well, another thing hindering his production.

In summation, it would be nice if every player could play with Kessel, but that just isn't feasible in reality, unfortunately.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 Saud
January 29 2014, 02:09PM
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I am not really sure but it seems to Joffrey is not completely healthy, He just does not have the explosiveness we saw last year. I realize jvr and kessell have also been banged up and produced as well. However I really think that swagger is important to see in Lupul and its not there. It seems like he is trying to do alot at the same time. He needs to simplify his game a bit. Ofcourse I have no numbers to back this up, just based on watching the games so far.

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#2 MaxPower417
January 29 2014, 03:17PM
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Isn't Kessel swell?

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#3 greg
January 29 2014, 09:19PM
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If kessel scores so many goals per 60 why don't they play him 60 minutes a night #owned

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