You wouldn’t believe what Joffrey Lupul said about the Leafs leadership qualities

There was a lot said today by Tim Leiweke and Brendan Shanahan as the Toronto Maple Leafs made a big scene in unveiling their shiny new President and Director of Hockey Operations, making the media rounds and holding a press conference. It was also locker clean-out day, which is usually when we get to learn who was injured.

But beneath all that was a Joffrey Lupul quote that’s been buried behind a lot of other stuff.

The Leafs absolutely must improve their organizational depth, but one of the big questions after this season’s turn for the worse concerned whether there was enough leadership on the team. Captain Dion Phaneuf does not think that’s lacking, but Lupul said any team could always use more.

“I’m sure that’s something that’s going to be addressed,” he said. “But it also comes with younger players becoming more mature and comfortable in the NHL and those guys becoming leaders. It’s not like you can just go out and find guys with certain leadership qualities, it’s tough to do.

That’s from Stephen Whyno at the Canadian Press.

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I think this season we spent a lot of time—too much time, really—parsing the words of Leafs players and executives and looking for faults inconsistent with measurable data. Joffrey Lupul is 100% right on this one.

Can statistics tell you who a good leader is? No. Leadership is an intangible, meaning that it can’t get added or subtracted. Winning teams tend to have good leaders because everybody’s confident and wants to take charge. By contrast, it’s just a lot less fun on a losing team so you start hearing stories about divided locker rooms and factions supporting various leadership figures.

“Good hockey teams have good leaders” is a mantra that hockey people have accepted for over a century, but which aspect is causative and which is merely correlative? “Leadership” is an intangible that can’t be defined or quantified, and by extension, cannot be added or subtracted or divided or multiplied.

I think if the 2013-14 Maple Leafs season proves anything, it’s that you can’t try to add to talent with players with leadership qualities. It’s that square peg, round hole thing, where David Bolland is expected to come in and do something better than Mikhail Grabovski, but we weren’t sure what. David Clarkson is expected to do something better than Clarke MacArthur, but again, it’s those qualities you can pinpoint that are missing.

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If the Maple Leafs changed the management and coaching staff and brought back the same roster, I might have them pegged as a playoff team if only because I think the Leafs team has as much talent at the top as any team in the league. The problem chiefly lies in the secondary and tertiary pieces where the Leafs attempted to add to that top-end talent with leadership. That’s not really what good teams do. Good teams supplant talent with more talent, and I’d have to think the overall pleasantness of the work experience gives off the illusion of leadership.

“Leadership” as a concept is a plot-device for sportswriters looking to spin narratives certain ways. If a player gives 130% every night to make up for the fact he isn’t completely naturally talented, the only added benefit is what production the player provides. Phil Kessel looks lazy and disinterested on the bench all the time, and yet when he’s on the ice, only Claude Giroux has been more productive over the last three seasons. Only a fool could look at Kessel on the bench and think “we don’t need more players like this one”.

But yes, the season falls apart, and with it comes the identity and the character the Leafs seemed to have a year ago. The 2014 Leafs didn’t hit, fight or intimidate any less than they did a year ago. The key difference is that the shooting percentage dropped from a historic high to merely good and they were done in by the sheer volume of shots given up, without being able to compensate with added goals.

There’s no magical formula here, and Lupul is bang on. You can’t fix the Leafs problem by trying to identify leaders and acquire them. You can’t even fix the Leafs problem by giving Lupul a letter to wear on his sweater that used to be on Dion Phaneuf’s. You can fix this team by shipping out the less-talented players and try to get more talented players, and hopefully that’s the message Shanahan is going to relay to Dave Nonis and his scouts during his first week on the job.

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  • jasken

    Equally intangible and tying in with what Lupul is saying I believe is the concept of culture. I would argue you can have as many leaders as you want, their style has to fit the team culture. This is at the player level as well as the management level. This culture means when a leader is injured it doesn’t matter because the qualities they instill (whatever they may be) continue because they are a part of the culture.

    An example of this I think can be seen in the All Blacks (rugby). A consistently competitive team for as long as I can remember. The personnel may change but there would appear to be some culture in the team that maintains.

    Perhaps you could argue the Red Wings have this too.

  • jasken

    “It’s that square peg, round hole thing, where David Bolland is expected to come in and do something better than Mikhail Grabovski…”

    Grabovski was committed to Toronto the city and the Leafs team for the long term. He had lots effort and energy…and we could have used that some night this year.

    Dave Bolland is probably leaving to the highest bidder. That doesn’t really seem like leadership or the right example for young players.

  • jasken

    Very true.

    As an example, in football — – Pete Carroll is a strong believer of exactly what you are saying. He thinks it’s far better to develop leadership from within and basically think it’s almost impossible to go out and seek it

    He’s cut “leaders” such as Michael Robinson, Red Bryant, Lofa Tatupu, Matt Hasselbeck, and Lawyer Milloy but because of that void other ones developed.

    If the Leafs goal is to go out and find “leaders”, good luck.

    What I heard about the Leafs — is that they dont have a player who will hold their teammates accountable. One example given to me was Mike Keane — a player like that was supposively very good for Joe Sakic and Forsberg in Colorado. But where do you find that?

    I think more than leadership, the leafs need better coaching and players who actually know what the hell to do in their defensive zone. I.E. get rid of Franson/mason raymond and add some legitimate three-zone guys. And stop pretending guys like bolland/bozak are.

  • Leaf Fan in Mexico

    Stephen Whyno has some of it right, but just because its hard to find, doesn’t mean you a. put up with a lack of leadership, b. don’t go out and look for it or c. accept that some players just don’t have some of it. This is nonsense ALL players have some form of leadership in them and anyone who has ever suited up for serious competition knows that.

    Its just some players choose to use their leadership qualities/capacity less often than not during the regular season. I am not just talking about all round leaderships quals like Gilmor, Stevie Y, Sakic etc. Leadership comes in many forms and each player has some. If you don’t believe me follow the story lines during the playoffs where previously unheralded players become shot blocking leaders, digging in the corner leaders, standing in front of the net pest leaders. etc.

    Where are these talents and leadership qualities all year? We can expect the same level of course over 82 games as over the playoffs but we can expect what one comment mentioned Accountability and that is something sorely lacking in TO. Often a leader has to be there to assure this overall, and they have to be in sync with the coach. Ideally there is one on D and one up front. Sorely lacking on D and team over all, Dion P is just not consistent enough nor does he have a strong enough or deep enough level of maturity, and as a result has not motivated better play. Up front, I have said a million times, I love Kessel but he is not a leader. Teamed with a leader he would certainly play both ends of the ice consistently and hard. He and Dion are not accountable ultimately and as such one gets tons of ice and the other lots of points but the team underperforms and blacks out for long periods in the schedule.

    Finally, coaching. Without a solid system the players execute well, forget any thing like leadership on the ice because even if the boys had it in them to lead, they wouldn’t know where to start. Our system, if one exists, is horrid or ignored, conspiring to seriously limit leadership potential.


    Fire RC – get a coach who can handle younger guys who think they have it.

    Strip C from DP

    Trade Kessel and Riems in a packet for a leader

    Trade Riems and Gardner to get a mature vet leader and give him the C