The Leafs should trade Joffrey Lupul, now

As a first line winger, I’ve begrudgingly accepted Joffrey Lupul as somewhat valuable and completely immovable. This is the summer after Lupul has scored a near career-high 31.1 goals per 82 games. He scored 25 in his 66 games with the Leafs this season.

This is exactly why the Toronto Maple Leafs ought to trade him. If there is any way for the Leafs to salvage the fact that they traded François Beauchemin, it comes with what happens with Joffrey Lupul.

Lupul has one more year left on his deal. He’ll make $4.25M according to Capgeek. His cap hit is identical to his salary, and should the Leafs wait until the deadline to take any parts for Lupul, they won’t get as good of a package. Even coming off an injury, Lupul is at his most valuable as a trading piece right now.

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There are two major worrisome parts about Joffrey Lupul headed into this season. The first is that hockey is not a game of raw numbers, but a game of ratios. If somebody asks you the score of last night’s Leafs game, and you replied with “4”, what does that mean? The Leafs scored four goals, sure, but was that enough to win?

A team wins a hockey game when they score 50% +1 of the goals in a contest. If you win a game 4-2, you’ve scored 67% of the goals and you’ve won. If you lose a game 5-4, you’ve scored 44% of the goals, and you’ve lost.

It’s true that Joffrey Lupul has scored a good amount of goals over his career, and his season offensively was very good. 31 goals isn’t a number to sneeze at or criticize, the issue is that there’s no guarantee with Lupul that you aren’t giving up the same number of goals up at the other end when he is on the ice.

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Lupul has never been very good defensively. In no season since more in-depth stats have been recorded has Lupul ever had a positive Corsi number, which means that his team maintained more puck possession than the other team when he was on the ice.

Let’s look at it this way: with Joffrey Lupul on the ice, the team scored 3.59 goals per 60 minutes, which was the highest on the Leafs last season. However, the Leafs also gave up a remarkably 3.77 goals against. Whatever good Lupul does in the offensive zone is quashed by what he does in the neutral and defensive zones. He simply doesn’t drive the play forward for (or with) Phil Kessel, and I think that our friend Eric T. has done a very good job explaining the importance of neutral-zone play.

The Leafs need to win games 4-2 more often. Lupul is a primary reason why they lose 5-4.


Joffrey Lupul last season scored 31.1 goals per 82 games on a shooting percentage of 13.1%. His 2.89 shots per game was a career best since the 2008 season, and this was the third time in his career he broke 25 goals.

But it likely won’t happen again.

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It’s one thing to argue a player’s defensive contribution, as I did above (and as @draglikepull did here at Pension Plan Puppets). Corsi numbers are new and generally not accepted among the hockey community. What I can do here is show you what happens when players shoot more than 13%, and what happens a season later.

In the 2010-11 season, 24 players had both 175 shots and a shooting percentage of above 13%. Here they are, with their games played, goals, shots and shooting percentage totals:

2010-11 Player GP G S Sh%
Corey Perry 82 50 290 17.24%
Steven Stamkos 82 45 272 16.54%
Jarome Iginla 82 43 289 14.88%
Daniel Sedin 82 41 266 15.41%
Ryan Kesler 82 41 260 15.77%
Patrick Marleau 82 37 279 13.26%
Michael Grabner 76 34 228 14.91%
Danny Briere 77 34 246 13.82%
Brenden Morrow 82 33 209 15.79%
Jonathan Toews 80 32 233 13.73%
Thomas Vanek 80 32 238 13.45%
Matt Moulson 82 31 237 13.08%
Teemu Selanne 73 31 213 14.55%
David Backes 82 31 211 14.69%
Jeff Skinner 82 31 215 14.42%
Drew Stafford 62 31 179 17.32%
Andrew Ladd 81 29 195 14.87%
Alexander Semin 65 28 196 14.29%
Loui Eriksson 79 27 179 15.08%
Matt Duchene 80 27 202 13.37%
Nathan Horton 80 26 188 13.83%
Dan Cleary 68 26 192 13.54%
Scott Hartnell 82 24 177 13.56%
Blake Comeau 77 24 182 13.19%
Average 78.3 32.8 224.0 14.66%

My thesis was that, in 2011-2012 (every player played), that these players would have a much lower shooting percentage in the next season. This turned out to be correct:

2011-12 Player GP G S Sh%
Corey Perry 80 37 277 13.36%
Steven Stamkos 82 60 303 19.80%
Jarome Iginla 82 32 251 12.75%
Daniel Sedin 72 30 229 13.10%
Ryan Kesler 77 22 222 9.91%
Patrick Marleau 82 30 251 11.95%
Michael Grabner 78 20 174 11.49%
Danny Briere 70 16 174 9.20%
Brenden Morrow 57 11 88 12.50%
Jonathan Toews 59 29 185 15.68%
Thomas Vanek 78 26 204 12.75%
Matt Moulson 82 36 219 16.44%
Teemu Selanne 82 26 210 12.38%
David Backes 82 24 234 10.26%
Jeff Skinner 64 20 210 9.52%
Drew Stafford 80 20 226 8.85%
Andrew Ladd 82 28 265 10.57%
Alexander Semin 77 21 183 11.48%
Loui Eriksson 82 26 187 13.90%
Matt Duchene 58 14 132 10.61%
Nathan Horton 46 17 90 18.89%
Dan Cleary 75 12 199 6.03%
Scott Hartnell 82 37 232 15.95%
Blake Comeau 74 5 137 3.65%
Average 74.3 25.0 203.4 12.27%

On average, these players did a little worse. They lost nearly eight goals each and about 2.5% off their shooting rate, and that’s including players like Steven Stamkos, Scott Hartnell, Corey Perry and Matt Moulson, players who were in the Top 10 in goal scoring in 2012.

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For those counting, just five players improved their shooting percentage. 19 saw decreases. Only Moulson and Nathan Horton increased their shooting percentage by more than 20% (and Horton played only half a year) while 12 saw their percentage decrease by 20% or more.

If Lupul can hit 25 again, I’ll be surprised. If he maintains his career average of 64 games played per season and his career shooting rate of 11.1%, his 2.83 shots per game with the Leafs would yield 20.2 goals. That’s not much better than first liners in hockey. A first line winger must score about 28 goals a season to be above the average players at that position, and I don’t think we can reasonably expect Lupul to best that total.

So what?

Trade him. Brian Burke ought to trade Joffrey Lupul while his value is high. Trade him after his career offensive year, and get a centreman or a top four defenceman for him. We may be looking at an upcoming season where Lupul’s gawdy offensive totals are brought up more as more of a player who is harming than helping the Leafs.

Think what Nikolay Kulemin did last season with seven goals. This is the sort of thing that could happen with Lupul.

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    I’ve been saying this for a while now. I just don’t think Burke can afford to do it though, not right now anyways. Too many Leafs fans have no idea about advanced stats and would call for Burke’s head. Everyone would be yelling “why trade away a 30 goal guy?”

    In reality, if we were able to move Lupul + prospects for a decent centre to play with Kessel we all the sudden have a pretty good top two line combo of:

    MGK (K-being Kulimen or Kadri)
    JVR-aquired C-Kessel

    We’d still have enough depth to ice a pretty good sheltered scoring line for our 3rd line and a good checking 4th line.

    Now if only our defence and goaltending problems were only that easy to solve! lol

  • Markas

    Few things make me pause about evaluating Lupul like this:

    1. He’s had a very different career path than most. I don’t know if his career numbers are all that useful when looking at his shooting %. He has stated before that he changes his game a lot from before his injuries

    2. The criteria for your first table would describe career year as a sh % of exactly Lupuls or higher. He’s at the exact low end of this group, not making it a great representative of how his next season will fair.

    3. The claim that a ppg player is actually hurting his team is pretty huge. He played almost exclusively with players with defensive deficiencies (Kessel, Bozak, most of our D), so his negative impact may be overstated by the shot metrics.

    Well, that’s enough procrastinating from real work…

  • Markas

    “If Lupul can hit 25 again, I’ll be surprised.”

    You’d be surprised if a guy who has averaged 25.7 goals per 82 games since the lock out and 27.7 goals per 82 games over the past 5 seasons would score 25 again?

    As for Lupul’s 13.1% shooting percentage, well, he shot 12.2% the previous 4 seasons so it’s not like he is a huge margin above his recent average. If he shoots 12% he still scores 23 goals in 66 games.

    Injuries aside, Lupul is easily a 25-30 goal scorer.

    As for his injuries, maybe he is injury prone, but he hasn’t had any chronic recurring injuries so I am not certain he is any more likely to get injured than any other player.

    But the #1 reason not to trade Lupul is he makes Kessel better (as he has most of his line mates throughout his career). Significantly better. Over last 2 seasons:

    Kessel with Lupul in lineup: 56g, 99pts in 91 games.

    Kessel without Lupul in lineup: 23g, 47pts in 70 games.

    I am not willing to mess with that success.

  • As I’ve said before – I’m relunctant to take anything away from numbers like these. I don’t think you trade someone based on their shooting % from year to year (should the Canucks trade D. Sedin because his shooting % went down in 2011-12?).

    I do however agree that his trade value is at it’s highest right now, and if the Leafs brass don’t think they can sign him.. or have no interest in signing him long term – the time to trade is now.

    My only hesitation is that Lupul is just 28. In theory, he is starting the prime of his career. He seems to enjoy playing in TO (unlike other FA’s).

    So.. if you can sign him for 3/4 years at a reasonable price – i think you take that chance. He may not be in your top 3 over that tenure – but he could certainly be an asset in your top 6 to 9.

    It’s all about what number you can sign him at.. if it’s reasonable do it. If it’s not – trade him now and get something of significance back for him.

    On another note.. I really enjoy your blogs Cam. Much more enlightened and informed than the Steve Simmons’s of the world. Keep up the great work!

    • Couple of your points here…

      #1 – Only scoring rates, that’s not really what I’m saying. The difference between Lupul and Daniel Sedin is that the Canucks aren’t a team devoid of assets. They could trade Henrik and Daniel for a hefty price, but they need to “win now” more than anything. The Leafs need to look to the future, which means “get good players on good contracts”.

      #2 – Prime player scoring seasons are much earlier than people believe. Scorers tend to peak in their early 20s, while goalies, defensive players and the rest are better later in their careers.

      Thanks for reading.

      • Actually, the Leafs don’t need good players on good contracts until they are ready to contend, which realistically is still a few years away. Lombardi and Komisarek won’t hurt them this year because they may not be at the cap and they aren’t ready to contend. When they are ready to contend they have to be rid of bad contracts.

        Second, who is to say that the Leafs can’t get Lupul signed to a good contract, or at least a fair contract? Right now they have a good player in Lupul and he will still likely be a good player in 3-4 years when they may contend. I don’t understand the rush to trade him now. Sure, if a steal of a trade is available you do it, but it just seems silly to trade a good player because he has good value.

  • I didn’t mean peak as a point producer necessarily.. you made the case mostly against his defensive game.

    I agree that point totals suggest a 23-27 peak in scoring stats (recently) – I just think as an overall hockey player it’s closer to 28-33.

    Keeping with the Sedins – H had his best two statistical years at 29 & 30.. winning the scoring title and the Hart at 29. D won his scoring title and Ted Lindsay at 30.

    Not in any way comparing Lupul to the Sedins. The Sedins had to adjust to the North American game. Lupul had a full AHL season between his 1st and 2nd season.. and missed the better part of two seasons with the back/infection issue. His actual NHL game experience may not be what his age suggests.

    I also think with the recent trend of having kids start in the NHL at 18 is a factor. By the time they’re 23 they’ve had 5 years of NHL game experience (inury permitting).

    We should also wait to see Crosby, Ovechkin, Tavares, Toews, Stamkos, Malkin etc numbers when they reach 35 and then look at the their “peak”. We`ve really been spoiled lately – but I`m sure you can agree.. this isn`t the norm.

  • Sometimes a player is more valuable for the way he plays with a player, than what his past career expectations might suggest he is worth.

    From the time Lupul was acquired, to the very last game he played before being injured, Kessel played at a 90 point pace with Lupul. It was instantaneous.

    Before Lupul came, he was to 30 goal sniper who could only play at a 60 point pace. What happened when Lupul went down? Same thing.

    Lupul has a natural chemistry with Kessel that far outweighs any sort of potential drop in goals or lack of defensive play that Lupul would bring. Trading Lupul would be a massive, massive mistake.

    And there is a hole in your argument. Your assuming that Lupul will conform to past career standards. Your completely ignoring how his past has been marred by injury. That alone could have set him back and not given him a full chance. In fact that was confirmed when he told the media he wasn’t allowed to be tried at LW on the Ducks and it limited him.

    But the bigger thing your ignoring? Ice time. In Lupul’s three most succesful seasons, he received 16 minutes (His 2nd season with Anaheim), 18 minutes (2007-2008 Philly season) and 18 minutes (with Toronto) of average ice time. Every other season? He’s received only 15 minutes on average.

    And surprise, surprise those seasons he had more ice time (which we can equate with more opportunity) he scored 28 goals, and played at a 29 goal pace in his Philly season (20 goals in 56 games) and 31 goal pace last season with Toronto (25 goals in 66 games).

    So with similar ice time it looks like 30 goals isn’t entirely out of the question when he’s getting ice time higher than 15 minutes a game. Plus you can’t discount the way Kessel plays with him.

    Therefore, I theorize that trading Lupul now would be the biggest mistake of Brian Burke’s career if he were to do so.