Mar 7, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul (19) during the pre game warm up against the St. Louis Blues at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Well, the dismantling of the Toronto Maple Leafs never really came to fruition this offseason. Yes, a major move was made in shipping Phil Kessel out of town via a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the Leafs still roster their captain, number 1 Center and, most surprisingly, veteran winger Joffrey Lupul. Lupul has been a fixture of the Blue & White since the 2010-2011 season and first emerged in the NHL in the 2003-2004 season. With this being said, the question that begs answering is how does Lupul fit into the picture in T.O. heading into the 2015-2016 season?
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It took me by surprise that Lupul’s name wasn’t mentioned as much in the trade rumours during this summer as it was at the time of the Spring Trade Deadline. I understand that Lupul has battled injuries throughout his career, but he has logged ice time in 124 of a potential 164 games over the last two seasons, which works out to 76% games played in that span. What was possibly more of a factor was trying to persuade a team to take on his contract. Lupul, at age 31, has three years left on his current contract (5-year, $26.25 million) and each year equates to a cap hit of $5.25 million. So despite a trade in the few months before the regular season kicks off, it looks as if Lupul will be a Leaf for at least the start of the season. However, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
As mentioned, Lupul has had a tough break with injuries over his career, but when healthy he can provide an offensive outlet (44 points across 69 games in 2013-2014) and leadership on the ice (after all he did wear the ‘A’, and most likely will continue to do so). Pretty much every Leaf had a down year last year, and by early projections it looks as if Lupul will be slotted in the right side of the first line to begin the season. So, the opportunity for success will be there, but so will the pressure to put up Kessel-like numbers even if the team isn’t expected to win much this year.
Lupul also provides the Leafs with a veteran leader on and off the ice, as he has a great community presence, which should help the younger skaters on the team understand the game at a faster rate. In an interview with Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star, Lupul had this to say back in March in regards to his play and the topic of him being benched,
"“When you’re not winning, when you’re not having success, it can be frustrating and you can get down.”"
"“There’s a ton of off-ice distractions that don’t happen in other places. You have to be mentally strong here. It takes a certain type of player to play here.”"
While in some ways this seems contradictory, one could only imagine the emotions, rumours and blurry outlook all the Leafs, including Lupul, must have been experiencing last Spring. With the hiring of new head coach Mike Babcock, I truly believe that Lupul’s game will change for the better, or at least it should. While expectations are high in this no-nonsense Leafs organization, Lupul’s character and play will contribute nicely to a team locked into rebuild mode.
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