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|
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.