Toronto Maple Leafs: Can Joffrey Lupul Stay Healthy This Season?


Toronto Maple Leafs: Can Joffrey Lupul Stay Healthy This Season?

Obviously, this is a rhetorical question and warrants no serious answer.

Mar 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; St. Louis Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (13) hits Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Joffrey Lupul (19) at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

No one can predict the future with any sense of certainty and injuries can’t really be controlled either. A player might take certain precautions to avoid injury, but bad luck and random chance have a way of getting around this.

If you’re doubtful, consider the case of Joffrey Lupul: an errant slapshot from captain Dion Phaneuf broke his arm mere days after the Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta native signed a five-year, $26.25 million contract extension with the Leafs in early 2013.

“Bad luck” is the best way to describe this unfortunate break. Lupul has bad luck in spades and it’s posed a real problem throughout his career. For whatever reason, the guy can’t stay healthy for long periods of time, which limits his impact on the ice and in the dressing room.

For instance, Lupul’s never played a full season in the NHL. He was a game short of the accomplishment in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, but these games were logged near the start of his career. Since joining the Leafs in 2010, he hasn’t come anywhere close to playing a full season.

Bearing this in mind, it’s better to query the Leafs’ dependence on Lupul. Few people question his ability to score, but is Lupul’s presence in the lineup crucial to the team’s success? Can they survive without him?

If you asked me this question in 2011-2012, the answer would’ve been no.

Lupul finished second in team scoring that season with 67 points (25 goals, 42 assists) in 66 games. He had a comfortable hold on this position, too: Mikhail Grabovski, the third highest scorer on the team in 2011-2012, had 51 points (23 goals, 28 assists) across 74 games. The top spot went to Phil Kessel, of course, who recorded 82 points (37 goals, 45 assists) in a full season. That’s quite the spread between the top three scorers on the team at the time, indicating an over reliance on guys like Kessel and Lupul.

This was the season, combined with a hot start in 2012-2013, that landed Lupul his generous contract extension.

Things quickly changed after this, however, with health issues posing a greater problem for Lupul in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. He played in 85 games across these two seasons where a full schedule would’ve seen him play 130 games.

Mar 11, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Tommy Wingels (57) Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Joffrey Lupul (19) fight in front of the Toronto bench late in the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. San Jose won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

As expected, Lupul’s placement on the team’s depth chart quickly dropped. He finished ninth in points for the 2012-2013 season before rebounding slightly to claim the sixth spot for the 2013-2014 season.

Lupul actually played in more games during the 2013-2014 season than he did during his magical 2011-2012 run, but the points weren’t there to the same degree. Last season, he recorded a very respectable 44 points (22 goals, 22 assists) in 69 games. For many players, these are enviable numbers, but they fall short of Lupul’s potential and some of the expectations stacked against him.

Ordinarily, such a sharp drop in performance would present countless headaches for the player and his club. Think about it: the Leafs’ second top scorer in 2011-2012 had essentially vanished behind the cover of a hospital screen and the comfort of playing a diminished role on the second line. This could’ve very easily sunk the Leafs, but somehow they managed to survive, making their first playoff appearance in eight seasons during the shortened 2012-2013 campaign – a season where Lupul only dressed for 16 games (he was able to dress for all seven playoff games, however).

What happened?

February 4, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle on the bench with forward Nazem Kadri (43) and forward James van Riemsdyk (21) and center Tyler Bozak (42) against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Air Canada Centre. Carolina defeated Toronto 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In the absence of Lupul, the Leafs saw improved and improving performances from the likes of Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner. Kessel still led the charge by a wide margin, but there was suddenly greater parity among the second-tier scorers on the team. This helped augment the loss of Lupul’s point-per-game status and it ended the Leafs’ over reliance on Kessel and Lupul, too.

To put things in perspective, van Riemsdyk, Kadri, Bozak, Mason Raymond and Lupul fell within 17 points of one another last season as the #2-6 scorers on the team. That compares positively against a spread of 24 points for the #2-6 scorers in 2011-2012.

What does all this mean for Lupul and the Leafs?

It means Lupul can safely assume a secondary role on the team where he’s kept out of the spotlight. He’s still capable of scoring meaningful goals and racking up points, but a slightly reduced workload might help to keep him healthy for longer periods of time. He’ll also see less attention from opposing players, which can only help as well.

After the 2011-2012 campaign, I’m sure this isn’t the role many Leafs fans envisioned for Lupul moving forward, but it’s the one that best suits him and the team at this point in his career.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below.

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