TORONTOL, Ont. – Joffrey Lupul still burns at the thought of what could have been this season for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“We had the team, we were confident, we were in a good position and we didn’t get the job done,” he said Thursday before the Leafs played their final home game of the season against Tampa Bay.
Lupul’s absence contributed to the team’s troubles, although they were well into a tailspin when he suffered a separated right shoulder March 6.
The 28-year-old winger was back on the ice at Air Canada Centre on Thursday morning for the first time since his injury. He was anxious to test his conditioning and reconnect with teammates but won’t be ready to return to the lineup until the fall.
“It was fun to be back out there with the guys,” he said. “Not playing for a month, it gets pretty boring and tough to watch after awhile.”
Lupul was a bright spot for Toronto this season after finding chemistry with Phil Kessel on the top line and producing a career-best 67 points in just 66 games. That helped make him the team’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy, which honours “perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication” to hockey.
After experiencing so much personal success and team failure, Lupul is left with mixed emotions about the year.
“It’s tough to look back at the season and decide what to take from it,” said Lupul. “December, January, it was so much fun coming to the rink every day—we were playing well, the fans were into it, there was a real buzz around the city—and then this happened.
“It was something no one could have predicted. Things looked great and we were confident.
“Even up until the (Feb. 27) trade deadline and in there, I was sure we were going to be a playoff team. This obviously puts quite the damper on the season.”
The Lightning can identify.
Not only did they arrive in Toronto well outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, they were also smarting from a 5-2 loss in Montreal on Wednesday night. Coach Guy Boucher believes his players are struggling to play their best with only pride on the line.
“Yesterday we played an awful game to be honest with you,” said Boucher. “It is a tough moment now because we were in the race for a long time. … It’s a tough moment for the motivation but we have to come out and play a solid game.”
If Lupul’s progress continues, he could still find himself in the mix for Canada’s entry in the IIHF World Hockey Championship. The team plays its first game in Helsinki on May 4.
However, Lupul said that isn’t something he’s given much thought to just yet.
His biggest motivation is having another good summer of workouts—which he credited for the breakout season—so that he’s ready to be a key contributor again next year.
“As far as scoring goes, I surprised everyone, including myself,” said Lupul. “But I’m pretty confident, I was confident coming into the season. I wouldn’t have come in here and said I was going to be in the all-star game but I was happy with how I felt.
“I know what I have to do this summer to come back and be even better next year.”