Who made who? Kessel and Lupul

Any time that I get to link to an AC/DC song that hasn’t been royally corrupted by my 16-year old sister singing AC/DC’s Rock Band track pack, you have to take it. I suppose the other reason for writing this post is that I’ve been very critical of the play of one Joffrey Lupul this season. I believe that much of his success is hollow and pushed by the play of Phillip Kessel Jr., a superior player in all three zones.

In an attempt to prove anything here, I ditched the fancy numbers and looked back through video of each of the even strength, non empty-net goals scored by both Lupul (13) and Kessel (22) this season.

But first, turn on the song. Not so much that I’m a big AC/DC fan, but this will set the thematic tone for the post. You could even make the argument that Lupul is as stale and generic and as one-dimensional as AC/DC. He’s the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-guitar solo-chorus-verse-chorus of hockey players:

Let’s start this up. I first looked at where these players goals have come from. While I’ve read in the comments section a bunch that these players create a lot of goals off the rush, I wanted to find a bit of proof. I don’t have a point of reference, but here are the numbers:

KESSEL – 13 goals off the rush, or 59.1% of total EV goals, 9 off possession

LUPUL – 7 goals off the rush, or 53.8% of total EV goals, 6 off possession

How I made the link was whether or not there was a clear play made in the defensive or neutral zone leading up to the goal. For each goal off the rush, I tracked who the main puck-carrier was in the neutral zone, whether it be Kessel, Lupul or Tyler Bozak.

I saw a lot of plays like this:

Or this:

The reason is because Phil Kessel is a real good hockey player, and Joffrey Lupul is just sort of average. Here are the total numbers for goals off the rush:

  Kessel Carry Lupul Carry Bozak Carry
Kessel Goal 7 4 2
Lupul Goal 6 1 0

Not to say this is anything definitive, but Kessel has been more adept at creating offence for both himself and his linemate this season. Kessel turns a lot more pucks around in the defensive and neutral zones and drives them forward. This is reflected in the fact that Kessel has the highest Corsi number on the Leafs among forwards with 60 games (I lied, I did use some fancy numbers) and I think the guy is developing into a two-way player that a lot of people don’t see just yet.

But if Brian Burke is intent on holding onto a player with a career-high shooting percentage this summer rather than selling him when his value is at the highest, that’s his worry. I really, really don’t think that Lupul is anything more than average offensively and he’s pretty bleak in his own end.

Powerplay goals, goals off of offensive zone faceoffs, goals created by a teammate off the rush or empty net goals account for 72% of Joffrey Lupul’s goal total this year, and just 50% of Kessel’s. Of course, it isn’t breaking news that Kessel is a better player, but I think it’s a pretty stark difference. Lupul is taking advantage of a real good situation in Toronto, and Burke may be better off selling high for a real good young forward from Ontario.

        • I don’t get the seeming disdain for Lupul. Didn’t Kessel play with a scrub last year named Crabb. I don’t remember Crabb putting up numbers anywhere near what Lupul is. In fact I don’t know anyone on the Leafs who has played anywhere near as well with Kessel as Lupul has in his nearly 3 years here.

          Also Kessel is around a point per game since Lupul arrived, well above where he was prior. Kessel is the more skilled of an excellent duo, but I think they fit well together. $4M+ is a bargain in today’s NHL for what Lupul is doing.

  • One thing worth noting is that getting the puck to Kessel in the neutral zone seems to be a deliberate strategy on the part of the Leafs. He’s much less likely to pass the puck in the neutral zone than his linemates are (or so my memory tells me). So one of the reasons we may see so many goals coming on rushes where Kessel carries the puck into the zone is that the team deliberately adopts a strategy to make that happen. Now, that could be because he really is better at creating offense (I’d certainly say he’s a better skater than Lupul or Bozak), but it could also be for other reasons (to draw defenders away, because it gives Phil confidence, etc.).

  • This is one of the dumbest posts you’ve ever come out with. If you watched more than just the play that resulted in goals, you would see that Lupul is a much better overall player, and most of the possession that line gets is caused by the forecheck of either him or Bozak, something Kessel simply doesn’t do. Anyone who’s watched Leaf games this year would know that, but let’s just use convenient stats to make a moot point.

  • While I agree that Kessel is the better player, I think you’re hard pressed to find a guy that can finish half the plays that Lupul has finished. Let’s also not forget that while Lupul may be having a banner year, he didn’t come out of nowhere. He was a young up and comer that was traded before he ever got to stick with a club and he was always a few notches down on the depth chart. Not to say that the Leafs should mortgage the future to sign him. Especially not anything more than what Kessel is making, but don’t discount Lupul. I also don’t agree with the defensive zone piece. I think that Kessel, while he has improved this season, the defense know that he is not an option, so Lupul faces undo strain of having more to deal with more of the breakouts. This means that if the opposition is watching tape, they know to double down on Lupul because the puck is likely not coming to Kessel.

    • Danny Gray

      Lupul is a 1st or 2nd line winger. That being said I think Clarke MacArthur can do his job much better, and for much cheaper. And the return Lupul could bring would help the club much more. His absence opens a spot for Kadri as well.

  • nhlcheapshot

    Convenient in that you used a stat that supported your point and didn’t look for other specific stats that would tell more of the story. Like how many scoring chances are created by Lupul, or how many times Kessel tries to dance into the zone and gives the puck away. Or how many battles Kessel loses in the corners, on the boards, in front of the net, and in the defensive zone, than Lupul.

    If you watched the games and not just the goals, you would see that the stats you chose to look at are convenient, more than they express the actual play.

    Kessel is much more skilled as a sniper, no one is going to argue that. But Lupul is a better overall player.

    • Kessel is a better Corsi player. So whether he loses battles or doesn’t create scoring chances in your mind’s eye, the puck is still more likely to be fired at the opponent’s net when Kessel is on the ice than when Lupul is.

      I don’t want to use fancy numbers, but the point of the post is that Kessel has been setting up Lupul far more than Lupul has been setting up Kessel. Kessel has been setting up himself as well.

      As for comment #15, do you think Kessel’s success can be more attributed to the fact that he’s entering his prime rather than playing with Joffrey Lupul? Really, my worry here is that Lupul isn’t a guy who provides anything more than the ability to score goals. It’s important, sure, but any scrub can do it.

      Lupul makes more than twice as much as Alex Burrows in Vancouver doing pretty much the same type of job. There’s a cheaper player out there who can fit alongside Kessel and do what Lupul does, and you may as well trade him now while his value will be at the highest.

      • When Burrows signed his contract his previous seasons he had 31 and 51 points. Right now he’s on pace for 56 points while playing with TWO ELITE talents. At the moment the Sedin brothers sit 20 and 22 points ahead of Burrows. Lupul is on pace for 83 points, Kessel for 87. Lupul has the luxury of playing with ONE elite player and Bozak. So Burrows is on pace to finish 27 points back of Lupul despite playing on a line with much more overall talent, but you seem to suggest that Burrows could do what Lupul is doing with Kessel….hmmm, OK.

        As for Kessel moving into his prime, absolutely that is part of it. But last season before Lupul arrived, Kessel sat at 35 points in 54 games, in his last 28 games Kessel had 29 points. I don’t suppose Kessel entered his prime in his 55th game, so Lupul is playing a part. Suggesting that “any scrub” could do it is nonsense. Lupul is a very good finisher and a good passer, Kessel is elite at both, that said, the assumption that we could EASILY replace Lupul AND do it more cheaply is silly.

        Though I do share the concern that Lupul will want more than he’s worth when his contract is up, so I’m sure Burke will get a good read on demands leading up to the trade deadline. If they are too aggressive, we can deal him then.

          • Actually in comment #16 he said ” It’s important, sure, but any scrub can do it.” It’s right there in his third paragraph.

            That said I’m aware that as a UFA after next year Lupul might want something outrageous, so I’m all for looking around for potential replacements, I just know it’s not as easy as finding “any scrub” to do it. Frankly it’s a tricky spot, because if Lupul put’s up a point a game next year his demands will be very high and at his age and injury history I’d be very wary of overpaying and would want the term kept fairly short. I could see Lupul wanting to test the market as surely some fool will overpay. So again, Burke should gauge his demands well before the deadline, if they are just too much then move him for assets.

            Just so I don’t get lumped in with Tim, I think Kessel is clearly the better player, he’s elite. That said I think Cam is underestimating Lupul’s contribution.

    • Heh, “if you watched the games”. You realize that the stats that Cam uses generally (in his numerous other posts on Lupul) are compiled by watching the games. Thing like winning battles or ‘dancing into the zone and giving the puck away’ are reflected in those stats.

      At the end of the day, it’s frankly ludicrous to suggest that Lupul is a better player than Kessel. He may do some things better than him but the things that Kessel does better than Lupul are more important.

      Now, I disagree that Lupul can be replaced easily. I think that if any move should be made it would be at the centre ice position.

      Cam is going to start periodically counting scoring chances for the Leafs so you’ll be able to see how many chances each creates but only someone that is being willfully blind or misleading would think that Lupul creates more chances than Kessel.