Toronto Maple Leafs: Finding a Place for Joffrey Lupul


The Toronto Maple Leafs may be stuck with Joffrey Lupul after re-signing him for five years in 2012-2013

This upcoming season will mark Joffrey Lupul‘s sixth campaign for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He joined the team in 2010-2011 as part of the return package from the Anaheim Ducks for veteran defenceman Francois Beauchemin.

More from Toronto Maple Leafs

Lupul left a positive impression on fans and the coaching staff during his first season with the team, collecting 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in 28 games. It was during the following season, however, that he really left his mark: he combined for 67 points (25 goals, 42 assists) in 66 games to set a new career high for points in a single season.

He was able to carry that high level of success into the 2012-2013 season, which earned him a handsome five-year contract extension worth $26.25 million. Times were good for Lupul, but they didn’t last long. He was lost to injury almost immediately after singing the extension and would miss most of the lockout shortened season as a result.

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

Hoping for a rebound season in 2013-2014, Lupul stayed healthy enough to dress for 69 games, but his production declined sharply in comparison to the two previous seasons. He was limited to 44 points (22 goals, 22 assists) and registered minus-15. His performance declined even further last season where he put up 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 55 games and went minus-10.

(For the advanced stats crowd, Lupul went minus-308 in Shot Attempts and minus-265 in Unblocked Shot Attempts during the 2013-2014 season. He improved slightly last season to register a minus-161 rating in Shot Attempts and minus-113 rating in Unblocked Shot Attempts. Even during his breakout season in 2011-2012, however, he was a defensive liability: he went minus-68 in Shot Attempts and minus-86 in Unblocked Shot Attempts.)

Oct 18, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Joffrey Lupul (19) takes a shot in the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

At 31 years of age, there is still time for Lupul to rediscover his form and light up the goal lamp again with some sense of regularity, but his inability to stay healthy for long stretches of play remains his biggest roadblock to success and puts this in doubt.

We have seen what he can accomplish when healthy; we just have little reason to think he can stay healthy.

All of this puts the Leafs in a difficult position: how can they best use Lupul and justify his contract without putting him at risk for further injury? The Leafs extended Lupul’s contract under the false pretense that they were a team on the rise. Lupul was supposed to play a big role on that team, but as reality has quickly come home to roost, this has put Lupul’s place on the team in question.

He can score and provides some leadership, but he’s no longer a go-to player or someone the Leafs can expect to see in the lineup for the majority of the season.

Given this situation and Lupul’s decline in offensive output, the team might be wise to use him on the third line this coming season and as a regular fixture on the power play. This will take some of the pressure off of Lupul to perform while limiting his exposure to potential injuries. It will also allow the Leafs to tap into Lupul’s offensive game without exposing the risk of his defensive game – a benefit that shouldn’t be discounted. Shots against remains one of the Leafs’ great weak points.

Mar 31, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mark Barberio (8) skate behind the net during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

As a further bonus, it will let some of the younger players on the Leafs like Nazem Kadri, William Nylander and Mitch Marner hone their skills with extra playing time on the top two lines. Since the Leafs are now looking ahead to the future, not the present, this is really how they should structure their lines. The era of Lupul, Tyler Bozak, etc., is over. We are now left with the relics of this era and the question of how best to handle them.

From what I can tell, Lupul is a luxury item from the recent but failed past. The Leafs are stuck with him for the immediate future so they should try to make the most of the situation without letting it interfere with the development of their future core.

I mean, what other options do they really have? Lupul isn’t part of the future.

What are your thoughts? How will the Leafs use Lupul next season? Is he still a valuable member of the team or has that chapter closed? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

More from Tip of the Tower

Stay connected with us for all of your Joffrey Lupul and Toronto Maple Leafs needs!