It’s hard not to feel bad for Joffrey Lupul in this situation

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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

We’ve been talking about this for months; or rather, we haven’t. Joffrey Lupul’s banishment from the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup had become such a foregone conclusion that people stopped specifying “if he plays” as early as July, 

Today, everybody’s expectations were finally confirmed, as both Lou Lamoriello and Lupul himself put out statements to the world.

“As you know, Joffrey in the middle of February had surgery and missed the rest of the season and has been in rehab all summer,” said the Leafs’ General Manager this morning. “Once the rehabber thought there was a chance of him getting back on the ice, he did so. He got on the ice and he had the same discomfort.”

“We brought him back, he saw our doctors, and when he went through the physical, and we both felt that he wouldn’t be able to play. He’s very disappointed. He worked very hard at it this summer.”

“He’s going to continue to work at it, wants to play, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Lupul’s reaction didn’t involve him speaking to the media, but rather came in the form of a prepared press release on the Maple Leafs’ website. 

“It is with deep regret that I will be unable to attend training camp and start the season with the Leafs due to injury. I pledge to work hard with a view to return to playing this season.” said the winger. “Hockey is the only life I have known. This is an extremely emotional time for me. Accordingly, I will not be making any further comment at this time.”

Injury Start Injury End Injury Type Games Days
3/7/2012 4/7/2012 Separated Shoulder 16 32
1/24/2013 3/15/2013 Forearm 25 51
4/5/2013 4/15/2013 Concussion 5 11
10/23/2013 10/28/2013 Bruised Foot 2 6
11/26/2013 12/9/2013 Strained Groin 7 14
4/2/2014 4/4/2014 Lower Body 1 3
4/6/2014 4/12/2014 Knee Surgery 3 7
10/29/2014 11/25/2014 Broken Hand 12 28
1/1/2015 1/28/2015 Knee 11 28
2/11/2015 2/21/2015 Knee 4 10
11/29/2015 TBD Stomach 59+ 133
    TOTAL 145+ 323

Nobody is going to lie to you and tell you that Lupul’s injury bug since initially winning the hearts of Leafs fans hasn’t been one for the ages. Since signing a 5-year extension on January 20th, 2013, he’s only played just 186 games, missing 129 in the same timespan. 

As well, nobody is going to tell you that this does an overwhelming amount of harm to the Leafs. Far from it, actually. Their roster is more crammed than ever, and the 32-year-old Lupul is a shell of what he once was on the ice. His insane 4.15 even points per 60 pace in the first stub-year of his contract dried up to a lukewarm 1.5 or so between 2013/14 and 2014/15, and last season, he was a detrimentally poor producer, grabbing a little over three-quarters of a point every hour.

That would be okay if he were a play driver of some sort, but that’s never been his game. Lupul was always a rush-oriented player who made his way to high-danger areas and rarely came back to help defensively, and it showed in his possession stats; the team would be more or less as effective with him than without him at putting pucks on net, but they’d bleed defensively. In every year of this contract, he’d been a negative relative Corsi player; and under his brief time with Babcock, he’s put up an extremely poor -4.94% Relative Corsi-For Percentage.

Simply put, a healthy Joffrey Lupul would only make the Leafs lineup if we were talking about brand names for the fans. If you want veterans, Colin Greening, Milan Michalek, and Peter Holland all pose better arguments to make the roster. If you want kids, you’ll still likely get more success from Kerby Rychel, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, or Nikita Soshnikov. Heck, Josh Leivo has been groomed to be Lupul’s heir apparent over the years and seems likely to be a better player at nearly a tenth of the cap hit.

But that’s where this gets weird. There’s no salary loophole for the Leafs here. Hitting the injured reserve only guarantees the Leafs a roster spot, not any cap relief. People point to “Robidas Island,” more legally known as Long-Term Injured Reserve, but LTIR isn’t free cap space; it’s a buffer for team’s going over at the start of the year. Robidas himself isn’t even an inhabitant; for the second consecutive year, Nathan Horton is expected to be the Leafs’ only placement.

In an ideal world for the Leafs, Lupul would be completely healthy, placed on waivers, and sent to the Toronto Marlies. This would save them $950,000 in cap space, something that putting him on IR wouldn’t do. In fact, if they believe that he doesn’t have the chops to play on this Leafs roster, that could even be Lupul’s preference. It would keep him in town, keep him playing hockey, and give him a chance to prove himself to another team.

The Leafs did that very thing with John-Michael Liles in 2013/14. With talent concerns after recovering from concussions, he was sent down at the start of the season. Liles immediately thrust himself into a leadership role with the little club and controlled the place of every game he played. Soon enough, he was getting re-evaluation looks with the Leafs, and in January, was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. He ended up staying there, playing regular minutes for two and a half years following.

That would be the best-case scenario for both parties, and I’m sure they know it. The fact that they aren’t taking this path is reasonable proof that what’s going on here is not a form of salary cap or roster spot foolery, but a legitimately devastating injury, one of many in Lupul’s career.

That’s a real shame. Say what you will about the player or the person, but he’s a guy who has had some awful luck on the ice over the years. He’s not breaking a particularly weak bone repeatedly; he’s had a serious of unfortunate events that have scattered throughout his body and made him pay. That’s not something you wish upon anyone, and as a result, he may ben looking towards the end of his hockey career at just 32 years old.

Sure, it’s easy to look back at the signing and point fingers at management. Anybody could have known at the time that locking up a 29-year-old with an injury history and only one big year, on a middling team that could still use a couple more young assets before truly competing with the big boys, was the wrong decision. The smart decision at the time would have been to sell high, but it was easy to get caught up in the hysteria and a less forward-thinking group struck out as a result.

But that’s not on Lupul. Lupul was just the guy happy to spend some more time with a team that gave him a new lease on life. For his sake, and the team’s, one would hope that he finds a way out of this, into a minor league situation, and gets one more shot to prove himself.

When and if that comes, we’ll have to see.

  • joekool

    Lupul was a favorite of the hockey reporters after the game, he would usually be in demand for a good quote, win or lose. He had a way to articulate the essence of the game, what worked well, what didn’t, and was always supportive of his team mates, in particular, Phil Kessel. I can see him as a coach some day, intelligent guy who knows how to communicate.

  • Tigon

    Good luck Joffrey. Always a classy guy on and off the ice. Well dressed, spoken and always willing to put himself in front of the media to answer the questions no matter how good or bad the team was performing.

    I hope for the sake of his long term health I hope he is able to recover and enjoy pain free life outside hockey. I’m sure he will resurface again in a hockey teaching capacity or in the media, or somewhere in the fashion or fitness industry.

  • Harte of a Lion

    He needs a year off to heal his body. The last time he took off a year he came back as a beast. It’s a shame it’s costing the team 5.25 for the next 2 years but maybe he makes one more come back next year.

    • Stan Smith

      On the plus side by the time the Leafs have to start looking at serious money for Matthews, Marner and Nylander, Lupul’s, as well as a number of other contracts will be off the books.

  • Stan Smith

    I agree that best case scenario would be to have Lupul mentoring the prospects in the AHL. He has been through it all from being a cocky rookie who thought he knew it all, to actually becoming an impact player in the NHL, to dealing with countless injuries. His career has really been a roller coaster ride, and I am sure the maturity he has gained from it could be used to help others along the way.

    • Tigon

      It’s 9 million before he loses around 60% or more to taxes, his agent (most likely around 3%) and escrow (16%). Still paid well but it’s no where near what it looks like on paper. So imagine paying another 20% on top of the taxes you already pay.

      Regardless, these are still human beings we are talking about, he just makes more than you because he worked harder in life. Don’t be sour.

      • BarelyComments

        “he just makes more than you because he worked harder in life. Don’t be sour.”

        Hahahaha… Ya if only that was the way we determined how people get paid… Wouldn’t that be great?

  • LukeDaDrifter

    Lupul has always been one of the nicest players on the team. He always played hard. Never complained. Even at the beginning of last season Babcock stated the rest of the guys need to go to the front of the net like Lupul does. One of the good soldiers we have had on the team in the last 10 years.

  • #@RealDeplorableBill

    Whats there to feel bad about? He’s getting paid his full contract amount, presumably for the next two years which is better than getting bought out.

  • LukeWarmWater

    First all Jeff I got to tell you what a warm feeling I got when you used the phrase “LUKEWARM”, thank you Jeff.

    To me the guy just had no luck as the injury bug ate him up. But he persevered and kept coming back after each injury including serious ones which I think would have had most players hang up the skates.He definitely has Josh Donaldson genes in him. I wish him all the best in the future and agree with others that this is a class act who would definitely benefit a hockey organisation with his passion and joy for the game.

    Speaking of LukeWarmWaters, the better half and I our sailing to Hawaii on Saturday looking for warmwater. The Captain just better have leaf games on in the old piano bar or it could be another mutiniy on the bounty as I direct the ship to Pitcairn Island where the water is indeed way above luke warm. All the best to the young leafs and all the posters in here. ALOHA.

  • Tom Leftley

    This may be nit picking but why does the author not bother to read his copy before submitting it for publication? Professional writers know the proper use of apostrophes, and a few minutes spent proofreading the copy should prevent basic errors. Spelling, punctuation, grammar are all part of a professional writer résumé. Sloppy work would not be tolerated in other professions and using the old “it was spellchecked” excuse is just lazy. Rant over ?

  • Harte of a Lion

    After giving the Joffrey Lupul situation a great deal of reflection I have come to the following conclusions. I believe that Lupul is probably 75 to 80% healthy, he continues to have pain and discomfort in his abdomen when on the ice. As athletes age into their 30’s, those that play a physical contact sport tend to have have nagging aches and pains that never fully heal as they get older. I am not a professional athlete however my experience has taught me the older I get, the harder it becomes to rehab injuries or a surgery.
    Yes, he worked hard all summer training and building up core body strength but if he continues experiencing pain in his abdomen, he is a disaster waiting to happen.
    IMO, I think Lou and Brendan sat him down and explained that due to his health and lack of production the past few years, he had three alternatives.
    1. Attend training camp with a likely possibility of being designated to the Marlies for the season.
    Or,
    2. Play injured (at 75-80%) until the next serious on ice injury occurs.
    Or,
    3. Go on the I/R and collect the remainder of his contract.

    IMO, this is why he was so emotional, as he is realizing that no matter how hard he trained this summer, it wasn’t enough and his hockey career is likely over, whether with the Leafs or another pro team.
    For those media morons like Elliot Friedman who see some evil plot in everything Lou Lamoriello does. (check out today’s Sportsnet rant about Loophole Lou and how something smells with Lupul’s situation)
    This, and the way the team handled Stephen Robidas and his career ending injuries speaks highly of Leafs management and shows they are prepared to take care of their veterans regardless of the media’s perceptions.
    There is no Robidas Island!
    There is no financial advantage for the Leafs to put Lupul on I/R rather than waiving him to the Marlies. The Leafs who are squeezing pennies when it comes to this years cap need the $950k however the team is stating through their actions that a player is more important than a bit of cap relief.
    Brandon Pridham has his work cut out for him over the next few seasons until Robidas, Lupul, Cowen and Horton finally come off the books.
    Lupul has a year to work hard and attempt to heal himself. After losing a calendar year to his back surgery and sepsis,(blood poisoning) he used that entire year to get healthy and apon returning to the NHL, he was a beast putting up close to 1 ppg.
    That’s the year Leaf Nation fell in love with Joffery Lupul!
    Good luck Joffery, I hope you find the strength and the perseverance to make one final return to the Leafs. With the way the team’s contract situation plays out next year, the team definitely has room for a 50+ point veteran. If this is truly the end of your NHL career, thank you for the excitement, and thank you for being a true Maple Leaf and bleeding Blue.

    Lest we forget, Jake Gardiner became a Leaf as part of the Lupul / Beauchemin trade. Even Burke got a few things right…

  • Quentin Coish

    I think Lupul needs to face facts. His body is broken beyond the rigors of playing hockey at the highest level. Stop playing now before something so bad happens that your quality of life is forever changed. Get into modelling, scouting, coaching, broadcasting, anything. Save the last two years of your contract knowing that you’ll never make that kind of money again and plan accordingly. Life could still be very enjoyable and still involve hockey.