Ever since Brendan Shanahan took over as the president of the Toronto Maple Leafs more than three years ago, everything has gone swimmingly. The teardown and subsequent tanking was an unabashed success. There is more optimism surrounding the on-ice product than since the 1970s when a promising core of young players was torn apart by an egomaniacal GM named Punch Imlach. From the anthem singer to the retired numbers to the murderer’s row of executive and coaching talent, everything has been first-class and first-rate. The days of constant dysfunction that have stretched back seemingly forever have been replaced by a buttoned-down group of which one of the most steeped-in-tradition franchises in sports is finally deserving.
Which has made it all the more puzzling when we saw a chink in the armor in the form of disgruntled winger Joffrey Lupul, once a valuable contributor to the roster and now an afterthought who may or may not be injured. It’s all rather bizarre. Lupul hasn’t played a game in the NHL since Feb. 6, 2016. The Maple Leafs have played 113 regular-season and seven playoff games since then. He apparently failed his physical, one that was conducted by a Maple Leaf doctor, when he reported for the opening of training camp five days ago. Sunday night he took to social media to not only claim that he is healthy and ready to play, but said, “Haha, failed physical? (The Maple Leafs) cheat, everyone lets them.”
Lupul later deleted the comment, but that is one very, very serious allegation to make without backing it up with any documentation. It not only casts some very serious aspersions on the people who run the team in general and GM Lou Lamoriello in specific, but it almost seems as though Lupul is trying to provoke something. There is no indication that Lupul has as yet taken any of the avenues open to him through the collective bargaining agreement to change the situation, but was certainly not shy about expressing his views in a very public way Sunday night.
The CBA makes situations such as this one very clear. The player has three days from the time of being officially notified of his status – which we’re going to presume was Thursday – to provide notice that he is seeking a second opinion from a doctor of his choosing. If that initial information was relayed to Lupul and his representatives before 5 p.m. Thursday, that would have given him until 5 p.m. Sunday to notify the league of his intentions. If it was after 5 p.m. Thursday, he has until Monday at 5 p.m. to notify the league.
And the CBA also spells out that if the team’s doctor and the player’s doctor cannot agree on the player’s fitness to play, “they shall confer and agree on an independent physician to examine the Player. The independent physician must be selected as expeditiously as possible,” within two days of both the NHL and NHL Players’ Association being notified.
So there is still some time here. Perhaps Lupul is, as we speak, backing up his words and going through the proper channels to get reinstated as a player. It’s interesting to note that if Lupul were deemed fit to play and reported to the Leafs’ American League team, he would be paid his $3.75 million this season in its entirety and would not be charged escrow on that amount. So in a way, there is an incentive here for Lupul to play. He can either be paid his salary minus escrow for doing nothing or make 100 percent of his wage in exchange for playing in the minors. One person in the hockey world who kept in touch with Lupul until recently said that as recently as during the summer, Lupul was not healthy enough to play.
Regardless of what Lupul’s intentions are, it’s a little confusing as to what his motivation was for taking to social media on Sunday night. It’s even more confusing that he either did not go through the channels available to him through the CBA or that he didn’t allow them to play themselves out to their conclusion. What’s equally confusing is the radio silence that has followed. Lupul was quick to delete his post after making it and the Leafs are saying nothing. When asked about Lupul Monday morning, coach Mike Babcock said the following: “I don’t know nothing about Lupes.” Really? Nothing? (Although Babcock’s use of the double negative there actually could give the impression he knows something about Lupul.)
In any claiming that a GM who has been involved in the game for 30 years this season and is in the Hall of Fame is essentially a liar and a cheater is pretty salacious. So is the notion that the Leafs skirt the rules and the rest of the league turns a blind eye to it all. This is not the same as Jared Cowen lashing out at the organization the way he did the other day. He was critical, yes, but basically his beef came down to a difference of opinion on how he was treated, not about integrity.
After a couple of years of nothing but clear sailing, the Maple Leafs have hit something of a rough patch here when it comes to their brand. It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds.
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