Toronto Maple Leafs: Should Joffrey Lupul be the Next Captain?


Toronto Maple Leafs: Should Joffrey Lupul be the Next Captain?

Yesterday’s game of Hypothetical Situation Concerning the Future Direction of the Toronto Maple Leafs was a such a success that I think we should try the exercise again, but this time we’ll focus on Joffrey Lupul.

Apr 8, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Joffrey Lupul (19) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Jackets won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Is Lupul an ideal candidate to lead the Leafs next season?

We’ll keep one of our main basic assumptions from last time – the Leafs somehow manage to move current captain Dion Phaneuf – but now we’ll assume that they were either unable to move Lupul or they decided to keep him.

With the departures of Phil Kessel and Phaneuf, it’s worth noting that Lupul would be the highest paid active player on the roster under this scenario (sorry, Nathan Horton). Is that enough to qualify him as captain? No, but it does speak to the importance of his role on the team.

As mentioned, Lupul has three years left on his current contract. If the rebuild works out according to plan, this’ll see a 35-year-old Lupul hit free agency at the same time that the team is starting to win hockey games again. Depending on how the rebuild progresses, Lupul would probably be an inexpensive option to keep at this point in his career or he could be denied entry into the Promised Land like Moses – it could really go either way and I don’t have a clear preference one way or the other.

(Would it be best to have a younger player lead the new, younger core of players? That’s something to consider, too.)

When he’s healthy and on his game, Lupul is one of the most dynamic players in the lineup. He’s capable of registering points with ease, boasting an incredibly quick, hard and accurate shot. He’s also a great emotional leader on the ice – you can always tell that he’s invested in the game – and he’s done a ton of work off of the ice for the Toronto community and the Canadian Armed Forces. These are the two strongest arguments in his favour: he can lead the team on the scoreboard, on the bench and in the dressing room, and away from the rink. The fact Lupul already carries an “A” on his jersey might even make him the obvious choice to captain the team next.

Feb 7, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul (19) wears an armed forces style jersey during the warm up against the Edmonton Oilers at Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Edmonton 5-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

What are the potential drawbacks to making Lupul the next captain of the Leafs? First, it means we’re on the hook for his over-valued salary until 2018 at an annual cap hit of $5.25 million. Since the Leafs aren’t really in the market for top-end free agents right now, however, the money issue isn’t likely to raise many objections from management. They can afford to keep him.

Beyond this, the major drawback to Lupul concerns his health. He’s never played beyond 69 games in a season since joining the Leafs. This is something to consider, but we’ve seen other teams manage through extended absences from their captains – Brian Gionta on the Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres, Sidney Crosby on the Pittsburgh Penguins, etc. The only difference here is that the Leafs are in the process of rebuilding their roster so they might want their captain there on a regular basis to help guide the process.

Mar 14, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Booth (20) skates in warm up against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Canucks won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

In my previous post that presented David Booth (let’s assume they re-sign him) as an ideal leadership candidate, I dismissed the health question, but perhaps this was premature. The Leafs will want to surround their new, young core with proven veteran leadership and if Lupul or Booth aren’t able to fulfill that role due to health issues, it might actually make them poor candidates for captain. It all depends on whether the Leafs need and want someone to shepherd the team through the next few seasons or if they want to tap into the unique levels of commitment shown by Lupul and Booth in a Leafs jersey – take your pick.

Unfortunately, you can’t have both under this exercise.

What are your thoughts? Is Lupul or Booth an ideal candidate to lead the Leafs next? Is there a better option? Should the Leafs keep Phaneuf? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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