Joffrey Lupul is one of the Leafs’ more talented top-six forwards, but he’s missed one of every four Maple Leafs games since he arrived in Toronto four years ago. After three-and-a-half seasons with the Leafs, those missed games add up to a lot of missed points.
Back injury. Blood infection. Separated shoulder. Head injury. Arm injury. Lower body injury.
It’s never one thing with Joffrey Lupul – it’s everything. He’s not a banging, crashing, fighting kind of player, yet the 31-year-old Maple Leaf gets injured like he has glass for bones.
That’s not to knock Lupul’s dedication, fitness or work ethic. The guy tries hard. He’s got to hate being injured so often. He’s been a Masterton Trophy finalist, and at the rate he’s going, you could pencil him in as the Leafs’ nominee for the award every year.
But he’s also been one of the more effective points-per-game producers on the Toronto Maple Leafs since he was acquired by the team in 2011, and that begs the question: what could the former seventh overall pick be if he wasn’t always hurt?
Lupul has scored 74 goals and 164 points in 205 games playing first- or second-line minutes with the Blue and White. But he’s also left a lot on the table –a full season, to be exact. Lupul has appeared in 205 of a possible 286 games with the Maple Leafs, which means he’s missed 81 games due to injury since arriving in Toronto on Feb. 9, 2011.
The next game the Leafs play will be the 82nd regular season contest Lupul has missed since he arrived in Toronto. He’s scored an average of .37 goals per game and .43 assists per game in that span – good for 30 goals and 35 assists when divided out over 82 games.
That’s 65 points Lupul has left on the table for the Maple Leafs over a span of three-and-a-half seasons. He’s also effectively missed one out of every four Leaf games during his time in Toronto.
Lupul has never played an 82-game NHL season in his career. The closest he came was in back-to-back seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers between 2005 and 2007, when he missed just one game per season. He put up 28 goals and 53 points in the 2005-06 season with Anaheim, his second year in the league and the last with the Ducks before he was sent to Edmonton in the Chris Pronger deal.
Lupul wouldn’t regain that form until half a decade later, when he was traded to the Leafs after a second go-around in Anaheim.
As the Leafs trudge through another season of mediocrity – not bad enough to draft high, probably not good enough for the post-season – Lupul is a guy some expect to be moved. But his checkered injury history and $5.25 million cap hit for three more seasons makes him a very hard sell. He was an expensive gamble when the Leafs acquired him in 2011, when he was fresh off a blood infection and making more than $4 million a season in Anaheim.
Four seasons later, Lupul has shown he can score but also that he remains a constant question mark. He’s just not a reliable piece to build around.
So what do the Leafs do?
A buyout would saddle the Leafs with $1.75 million of dead weight on the cap for another six seasons. That doesn’t make a lot of sense unless Brendan Shanahan really wants to tear this operation down to its foundations.
But the trade route would be difficult, too. Lupul has skill and leadership abilities, but it’d be tough for him to lead a group like the Edmonton Oilers if he’s missing one out of every four games. He would be attractive to a playoff contender if he were a rental, but no one is going to want a $5.25-million millstone of a contract for the next three years.
The safe bet is Lupul isn’t going anywhere. He’s a fragile player who is now in his 30s, and he’s under contract for 282 more games with the Maple Leafs.
What are the odds he only plays 200 of those games?