Joffrey Lupul hasn’t played a game for the Maple Leafs since February of 2016, and by all accounts he’ll never suit up for another one with them. But now in the final year of his contract that carries a $5.25-million AAV, apparently he isn’t set to go quietly into the night, and wants to talk – or at least drop hints – about something many people have speculated on for the last 36 months: Toronto’s management is, allegedly, circumventing the CBA by sending players to Robidas Island – where older “injured” players go to collect the remainder of their salaries and let the Leafs expand their cap ceiling through long-term injured reserve. Many believe Patrick Marleau already has his trip booked for 2019.
By now you’re aware that Lupul made some waves on Instagram last night by declaring, in a comment, that the Leafs cheat and “everyone lets them”, implying his failed physical result this week was a farce. We’ve known for a while that Lupul believes he can still play, but obviously the Leafs’ doctors think otherwise. For that reason, the obvious question for a while now has been who’s actually right? And if it’s Lupul, why hasn’t he gone further to do something about it?
After all, there is a league office involved here that’s supposed to enforce the salary cap and put a stop to managers who want circumvent it. Also, there’s a players union that would represent Lupul in any grievance process if he wanted to go that route and put Lou Lamoriello’s feet to the fire.
But how would they go about that? Here’s how 50.10 (d) from the NHL/PA Collective Bargaining Agreement describes that process:
Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception to the Upper Limit.
In the event that a Player on a Club becomes unfit to play (i.e., is injured, ill or disabled and unable to perform his duties as a hockey Player) such that the Club’s physician believes, in his or her opinion, that the Player, owing to either an injury or an illness, will be unfit to play for at least (i) twenty-four (24) calendar days and (ii) ten (10) NHL Regular Season games, and such Club desires to replace such Player, the Club may add an additional Player or Players to its Active Roster, and the replacement Player Salary and Bonuses of such additional Player(s) may increase the Club’s Averaged Club Salary to an amount up to and exceeding the Upper Limit, solely as, and to the extent and for the duration, set forth below. If, however, the League wishes to challenge the determination of a Club physician that a Player is unfit to play for purposes of the Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception, the League and the NHLPA shall promptly confer and jointly select a neutral physician, who shall review the Club physician’s determination regarding the Player’s fitness to play.
An interesting thing about Lupul’s comment on Sunday night is the latter part, about how “everyone” supposedly lets the Leafs get away with this supposed cheating. In my eyes it raises a question about whether the NHL or Players’ Association has already looked into this, reviewed Toronto’s physician’s reports, and came away doing nothing.
We always have to be careful with talking about this sort of stuff, because obviously we don’t know the entirety of what’s going on, and there is a chance – albeit probably small in this case – that things can come to a head and there are real ramifications. It’s a serious situation, and we know Lamoriello himself has had run-ins with the league in the past.
Here’s a quick snippet from the Globe about the Kovalchuk ordeal in 2010, while he was with the Devils:
The record $3-million (U.S.) fine and the loss of first- and third-round draft picks levied against the New Jersey Devils as punishment for the first version of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract is all about NHL commissioner Gary Bettman delivering a hard message to owners and general managers: We warned you about trying to circumvent the salary cap, and these are the consequences.
We know how this story unfolded with the Devils managing to (somewhat) recoup that first-round pick, but the point is Lamoriello is no stranger to trying to push the language in the CBA to its limit. It only helps that this time around he has, in his corner, the guy who essentially wrote the damn thing.
In his final year with the league, (Brandon) Pridham was the senior adviser of central scouting, which gives him a solid knowledge of young players on the rise, as well as senior director of the central registry — the top cop, if you will, when it came to the salary cap, collective bargaining, the waiver process and trade calls. He was one of a handful of people who advised teams about what’s allowed cap-wise — how long-term injured time and bonus money are counted — and monitored trades to make sure both teams fully understood the financial impact.
Long story short, while this Instagram story is a headline-grabber and creates a lot of online drama, the chance anything comes of it are probably quite low. Lupul was quick to delete his comments after they started to get attention from fans.
It’s only my opinion, but I think for any of his charges against the Leafs to get real traction, Lupul would have to push hard for it through the union avenue. It’s puzzling he hasn’t already, if he truly believes his case is justified – which is why it seems there’s more to this under the surface. With all the constant talk about this idea of “Robidas Island” in the hockey world for the past couple years, it’s probably naive to think the league itself isn’t aware of how this is perceived in the public, and to date they haven’t acted. I wouldn’t bank on them doing so at this point, unless formally prompted by a grievance.
And then we have to wonder what’s Lupul’s end game here? He fights the Leafs, gets reinstated, is demoted to the Marlies, and rides the bus in the minors all season? The more you think about it, the more it makes sense that he so quickly regretted that comment, and it’s doubtful this goes any further.