Joffrey Lupul: Toronto Maple Leafs lose...their franchise player?
And down goes the Toronto Maple Leafs’ “franchise player.” (And with him, any hopes of playoff success.)
Wait, Joffrey Lupul isn’t the Leafs’ franchise player, Phil Kessel is, right? No, wait, maybe it’s Nazem Kadri. Or, maybe the Leafs don’t have a franchise player.
I was hoping it’d be Kessel when he came to Toronto nearly four years ago, but he’s failed, frustrating fans along the way.
He has long spurts without points, then a short streak of goals – all similar. He bursts down the wing and snaps a shot, every time. Or, from the hash marks on the power play, he again snaps a shot, hoping it finds a way in. He’s a one-trick pony.
He doesn’t play tough hockey, is afraid to go into the corners, and will abruptly stop in the middle of play if clipped by a stick or if he feels a penalty is warranted. I can hear the coaches yelling to stay in the play and not complain, arms flailing, to the refs.
So when Lupul came to Toronto two years ago, and began lighting things up, consistently, I finally thought the Leafs had done it – they’d found a player to build a team around.
But, as much as I love Lupul, he really is made of glass and prone to injury…you can’t be a franchise player if you’re never playing.
If Lupul is seriously injured from the Thursday night hit he took against the Philadelphia Flyers, and he’s out long term, it’ll already be his third time sidelined with an injury for the Leafs.
First, he separated his shoulder and missed 16 games last
season. Then, he fractured his forearm and missed 25 games this season. Now he may
have concussion like symptoms and be out indefinitely.
And that’s just with the Leafs – before coming here, Lupul suffered multiple injuries elsewhere: a spinal cord contusion and ankle sprain in 2008; surgery for a herniated disc, which led to a blood infection, in 2009. He’s missed at least 159 games to injury.
He didn't hit the ice for the Leafs' practice Friday, and won't be flying with the team to New Jersey for their game against the Devils Saturday.
It’s too bad he’s so frail - he can carry a team when he’s playing, like he’s done for the Leafs. In just 10 games this season, he has 14 points, and has teamed up with Kadri lately to make opponents look silly.
Remember that goal against the Ottawa Senators last Saturday? Senators goalie Ben Bishop had his jockstrap left on the ice somewhere.
Lupul has 99 points in 104 games with the Leafs. That’s 0.95 points per game. Kessel has 235 points in 271 games with Leafs. That’s 0.86 points per game.
And, Lupul – once nicknamed Mr. Burns by teammates – is 29-years-old. His chance to be a franchise player has passed. Kessel is only 25, but has been given the chance and dropped the ball.
That leaves 22-year-old Kadri, who has been given a chance to prove his worth this year, and succeeded (he leads the Leafs with 17 goals, and with 39 points), as possibly the only hope the Leafs have for a franchise player.
He can pass, has a nose for the net, knows where to be without the puck, and has that scoring touch. Best of all, he isn’t afraid of the corners like Kessel, and has even taken a few runs at the biggest guy in the NHL, Zdeno Chara. Not to mention he’s willing to drop the gloves if need be, too.
Kadri has 58 points in 88 games with the Leafs. That’s 0.65 points per game. But, this season, he has 39 points in 37 games, That’s 1.05 points per game.
I see hope for the Leafs in Kadri. Forget Lupul.
Forget that in his last six games before Thursday, Lupul had seven goals and five assists as the Leafs went 4-0-2. Rather, remember that when he fractured his forearm, the Leafs went 13-11-1 without him, a record that should get the Leafs into the playoffs if replicated in the remaining 11 games (say 6-4-1).
And, let’s also remember that Kadri, and JVR, have thrived for the Leafs without Lupul in the lineup. Especially JVR.
JVR is third in scoring for the Leafs, but he hadn’t recorded a point since Lupul’s return from the arm injury, a 10-game stretch that saw him benched once. After Lupul left the game Thursday, JVR broke his drought with a goal.
Never mind that the Leafs ended up losing to the Flyers, and losing Lupul in the process – Kadri (possibly a franchise player) and JVR will lead the buds to playoff glory. Heck, maybe JVR, 23, will battle Kadri to become the Leafs franchise player along the way.
Go Leafs Go! Cheers.