TORONTO – The cast is off and he’s back skating but Joffrey Lupul isn’t going to rush back into the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup.
The veteran forward was among six players participating in an optional skate Wednesday at the club’s practice facility. Lupul said it was his third time on skates since suffering a fractured forearm in Toronto’s third game of the season.
He was originally expected to be out six to eight weeks. Lupul said while he has resumed skating—he worked mostly with skating consultant Barb Underhill and didn’t take any shots—he has no timetable for his return.
“I’ve never had this injury before so it’s kind of just day by day,” Lupul said. “It’s just nice to be back skating, it has been a while.
“I’m trying to get back to basics to make sure everything is going in the right direction.”
Also on the ice Wednesday was goaltender James Reimer, who suffered a left knee injury Feb. 11 against Philadelphia. Reimer skated and repeatedly went down into the butterfly without hesitation to handle shots but could also be seen hunched over at the waist, his head hanging down, between drills or during water breaks.
Reimer’s body language certainly suggested his knee wasn’t responding well to the workload. But the Leafs’ starting goalie didn’t speak to reporters about it afterwards because he’s not officially practising with the club.
Lupul was hurt Jan. 23 in a 5-2 road win over Pittsburgh when hit by teammate Dion Phaneuf’s shot on a power play while standing in front of the Penguins’ net. The injury came days after Lupul signed a five-year, $26.25-million contract extension with Toronto.
“It was just bad luck, the puck hit me kind of in between some of my padding and got my arm,” Lupul said. “If it’s just a couple inches up it hits me in the elbow pad and everything is fine.
“Bad luck but what can you do? The team is playing great and giving me the opportunity to take just care of this and make sure I come back 100 per cent.”
The Leafs acquired Lupul, 29, and defenceman Jake Gardiner from Anaheim for defenceman Francois Beauchemin on Feb. 9, 2011. Last season, the six-foot-one, 206-pound Lupul was Toronto’s second-leading goalscorer with 25 and posted career highs in assists (42) and points (67) in 66 games. He successfully recovered from back surgery and a blood infection to earn his first all-star nod.
Not bad for a player that’s been traded four times during his career. The Ducks selected Lupul seventh overall in the 2002 NHL draft and he’s also seen action with Philadelphia and Edmonton, having registered 151 goals and 172 assists in 518 career games.
Despite a 4-2 setback to Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, the Leafs (10-7-0) have enjoyed a solid start to the shortened season. Toronto is 6-4-0 in its last 10 games heading into Thursday night’s home contest against the Buffalo Sabres, who made headlines Wednesday by firing head coach Lindy Ruff.
Toronto’s early-season success has allowed Lupul the luxury of time to ensure his injury is fully healed when he returns to the lineup.
“It does make it easier to recover and make sure that everything is going at the right pace,” he said. “There are times when if a team was struggling you’d kind of take it upon yourself to maybe hurry back and come back before you’re truly ready but that’s not going to be the case.
“It’s one of those injuries where if you come back too early there’s a risk of re-hurting it and then you’re back to square one and we’re not going to let that happen. I’ve talked to the training staff and they’re going to make sure we get this 100 per cent so it’s not something that’s going to bother me at the end of the season or in the playoffs.”
When he does return, Lupul said his injury won’t force him to change the way he plays the game. He’ll go right back to his usual spot in front of the opposition’s net, even if Phaneuf is on the blue-line and teeing up another blast from the point.
“That’s how I play, that’s kind of my role on this team especially on the power play,” Lupul said. “If I didn’t go stand in front I wouldn’t be hurt but if I didn’t stand in front I probably wouldn’t be as successful as I have been here.
“When you go to the front of the net sometimes you’re going to get some goals and sometimes some bad things are going to happen. It’s not going to stop me from going back and standing there again.”