TORONTO – Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle has seen several incarnations of forward Joffrey Lupul over the years.
There was Lupul’s promising 53-point sophomore season for Carlyle’s Anaheim Ducks in 2005-’06. There was an injury-shortened 2009-10 campaign and a frustration-loaded return the following season.
And then there is the present-day Lupul, his career rejuvenated after a 2011 trade to Toronto which has seen him blossom into a top-line left-winger.
“I think Loops has shown a tremendous amount of leadership, a lot of courage and a lot of grit and determination to get where he is,” Carlyle said Monday after the team’s morning skate at Air Canada Centre.
The Maple Leafs rewarded Lupul a day earlier, signing the Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., native to a US$26.25-million, five-year contract extension. He averaged just over a point a game last season, recording 25 goals and a career-high 42 assists and 67 points in 66 games.
Lupul has cleared some significant hurdles to get to this point.
He sat out nearly a year with a back injury and subsequent blood infection. When he returned to the Ducks’ lineup in December 2010, Carlyle used him primarily as a third-liner and Lupul was traded to the Maple Leafs a few months later.
They were reunited last season when Carlyle replaced Ron Wilson as Toronto’s head coach. Carlyle admits that there were times he probably didn’t use Lupul in the right situations with the Ducks.
They’re on the same page now.
Lupul, 29, has thrived since getting the expanded role he craved on Toronto’s top line. Lupul and linemates Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak will be counted on to provide offensive punch for a team coming off a 13th-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season.
“I worked hard in the off-season, I was coming in with a lot of confidence,” Lupul said. “I’m going to play the same way whether the contract thing happened or not. So it’s nice to have some security, absolutely, and I’m happy to be staying in Toronto.
“But as far as the way I play, it’s going to remain the same.”
Toronto acquired Lupul and defenceman Jake Gardiner from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Francois Beauchemin in February 2011. Getting the extension done now ensured that free agency talk wouldn’t become a distraction during the truncated 48-game regular season.
“I just didn’t really envision myself playing anywhere else right now,” Lupul said. “So that made the decision pretty easy for me.”
Lupul, who has a limited no-trade clause, will receive $5.25 million next season and in 2014-’15. He’ll get $6.75 million in 2015-’16, $5.25 million in 2016-’17 and $3.75 million in 2017-’18.
He has become one of the faces of the Toronto franchise, serving as alternate captain and recently taking over the team’s program with the Canadian Forces, which honours military members at home games.
“I’ve been happy here, I’ve had success here and I’ve really enjoyed the city,” Lupul said. “Now the next step is getting the team to the playoffs and getting this team to where it should be. That’s the goal here and if I didn’t think that was possible, I wouldn’t have signed here.
“So I think we have a lot of things going in the right direction and a lot of potential here. It’s time to get things turned around.”
Entering Monday’s home opener against Buffalo, Lupul has recorded 323 points in 517 career NHL games with Toronto, Anaheim, Philadelphia and Edmonton. He was originally selected by the Ducks with the seventh overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
Carlyle said Lupul is a more complete player now than he was in Anaheim, noting he has used a different approach to his preparation both physically and mentally.
The veteran coach has also been impressed with Lupul’s willingness to do the little things to make his line shine.
“He’s more likely to be the guy in front of the net taking the beating than the guy that’s around the perimeter,” Carlyle said. “Every mixture of successful lines needs people to do certain things and he’s prepared to do that and he does it both on the ice and the little things off the ice.
“You can count on Loops to be the guy.”
Lupul sat fifth in NHL scoring when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last March. He’s healthy now and ready to show he’s worth the big contract.
“I was happy when they reached out and said they wanted to start talking about an extension,” Lupul said. “That’s a good feeling. The team showing they have faith in you and wanting to get something done long term.
“It happened quickly. It took us a couple of days to get it done and I think both sides are happy.”