Managing expectations for Joffrey Lupul

Over the last few weeks, as is tradition in Toronto, it appears that people have started to ask for more of these Leafs. More of what? More of everything. More from everyone.

There’s always plenty of criticism kicking around for a team that has barely done anything positive in a decade, and you’ll find it here often. But sometimes we start to want more from players that simply don’t have it to give. Most recently, one of those players is Joffrey Lupul.

I think some of this started when training camp opened this past week and Carlyle mentioned breaking up the top line, perhaps reuniting Kessel and Lupul. Sports radio guests, even guys like Ferraro, have called on Lupul to produce more, suggesting last season was a down year. 

In 2011-12 Kessel and Lupul were absolutely on fire production-wise. It was the beginning of Kessel really hitting another level in his game, and Lupul was just as impressive. Lupul continued on that rampage with 18 points in the 16 games he suited up in during the following season, and had a new five-year contract as a result. In that total stretch, which conveniently rolls into 82 regular season games, Lupul ripped off 85 points. Obscene production for a guy who had never scored at that rate previously. 

With the contract kicking in last season, Lupul was used in primarily a second-line role as van Riemsdyk had established himself on the top unit. His production “slipped”, and he finished with 44 points in 69 appearances.

Don’t get me wrong, no one was really expecting Lupul to be an above-point-per-game player forever, as he was clearly riding the percentages heavily, but last season was viewed as a poor performance for him when it was anything but. 

I really enjoyed this piece from Petrielli at Hot Stove, but I’m going to pick on these couple sentences for a second:

The point per game Lupul put up with Phil Kessel was an aberration. He’s not a point per game player. However, he’s better than the .64PPG player he was last year (although 22 goals on the second line is still impressive). 

Thing is, Lupul is actually a career 0.64PPG player exactly. So that level of output last season is perfectly in line with how he’s produced long-term. It might be easy to want more, but it shouldn’t be expected.

Petrielli is actually going on to make the point that the trade-off between moving Lupul back with Kessel can produce another spike in his numbers, while moving van Riemsdyk down with Kadri might only bring down his numbers marginally, creating more total offence. And I think that’s a totally fair proposal.

What might throw a wrench into all of this is that Lupul is hitting the wrong side of thirty years old this month. If he was to stay with Kadri, his production might begin to fade from his career pace, as he’s leaving his prime years behind. I’d argue that in a second-line role, 50 points through 82 games (0.60 PPG) would be as much as anyone could reasonably expect at this point. If he’s bumped to the top line again, like Petrielli mentioned, we’ll see what the trade-off is. 

Reuniting Lupul with Kessel may not create the spike in production we think it could. Lupul is two years older, and instead of adding goals by swapping him and JVR, it might just be splitting the difference. 

Moving on from Lupul, another player under some fire this summer is The Dream.

Another guy who has to “do more” and find that offence he had pre-2014. But again, this is a second-line player. Look around the league at second-liners, very few are racking up 50+ points. The Ducks, for example, after Getzlaf and Perry, had Bonino at 49 points this past season. Arizona didn’t have a forward with more than 51 points. The Kings only had one player with more than 50. 

It’s a simplistic way at looking at it, but the point is that the ceiling for all these key guys in the Leafs’ lineup can’t be in the clouds, and in someone like Lupul’s case, it might be time to accept a decline. For Kadri, he’ll likely need to take his rightful place on the top line to produce at a level most fans believe he’s capable of. It’s difficult to predict when that will happen.

The problems facing the team have been, and will continue to be, figuring out what the hell that blue-line is supposed to look like, better overall team defence through systems and added emphasis on puck-possession, and meaningful production from the guys lower in the lineup. There are new players in the mix, like Winnik, Booth, Komarov, Kontiola – it should be about seeing if they can chip in and round out the scoring, rather than asking even more from players at the top of the lineup who have already been producing at an incredible level. 

  • Gumby

    Great article, that last paragraph is money.

    If kadri can even repeat 50 points playing on the 2nd line and 2nd PP unit, that would be an achievement itself. Bozak is the stop-gap keeping Kadri from reaching his potential. If not the 1st line kadri should be on the 1st PP unit, he produces much more than Bozak on the power play.

    For those that want to bring up faceoffs, their only a few percentages apart. That’s a weak argument.

  • silentbob

    I don’t think Kadri has to be on the top line to produce more offense then he did last year. During the short season he was on a 75 point pace playing that 2nd line role.

    I think any improvement in the Leafs offense this year will hinge largely on Kadri. We know Kessel will go through peaks and valleys and end up with 35+ goals and 80-ish points. We know whoever plays with Kessel will get an offensive boost especially during the peaks. If Kadri can play at the 75 point pace he played at during the short season, boost the production of the guys he plays with similar how Kessel does and carry the load when Kessel and the top line go into a “valley” it will go a long, long way to improving the Leafs offense.

    • That 75 point pace in the shortened year was impressive given his minutes, but he was riding a 109 PDO. I think if he’s going to bring in that kinda point total “honestly” (without getting a lot of puck luck) he’ll need added minutes and some time with Kessel. I mean, Naz has only been averaging 16-17 minutes these past couple seasons. Bozak was at 21 this past year.

      • silentbob

        Its all about what kind of player Kadri is.

        Is he a 50-ish point a year guy who can do better when playing with someone like Kessel, or is he a 70-ish point guy who gives the players he plays with a boost.

        If its the latter I think we’ll see the Leafs get a pretty good offense boost this year. If its the former we’ll most likely see a smaller overall offense boost, mostly from guys like Booth, Winnik and Santorelli.

          • silentbob

            Absolutely, I just don’t think he has to play with kessel to get increased time, and if he can be that 75 point player and boost those he plays with rather than another sidekick for Kessel, that will be a huge boost for the Leafs

  • silentbob

    I was looking at the lineups for the preseason game today and while I understand these lines don’t mean anything it occurred to me that if what the leafs are looking for is 3 balanced scoring lines wouldn’t it be interesting to see a first line of JVR-Kadri-Lupul? That Leaves Bozak and Kessel along with whoever is playing hot on the second line and would definitely force teams to make a difficult decision in terms of who they line their top d-men up against.

    • I think if Booth avoids injury, he’s going to mix up some stuff too. He’s already a better option than Clarkson.

      Not saying Booth is going to knock JVR off the top line, but he might get to play with some talented players for a stretch. Few options there in that top nine.

  • silentbob

    Watched tonight’s game and came away unimpressed with William Nylander for most of the game.

    Alot of individual moves, and scored a goal, but didnt see his teammates most of the time.