In what has been an incredibly positive season for the Maple Leafs thus far, it is Joffrey Lupul who stands out the most. Sure, Phil Kessel has been great, but with his skill set we all knew he would break out soon enough. With Lupul, the massive jump in production (1.07 PPG) has been the best surprise of the year. After a promising start to his career, back injuries took him down a notch with the ultimate result of being a salary dump in the Beauchemin trade. The important question to ask is whether this season is an aberration or if Joffrey Lupul has finally succeeded in living up to his potential.
Let’s look at a few basic stats for Lupul, going all the way back to his 07/08 season with the Flyers:
|Season||On-ice Sh%||On-ice Sv%||PDO||Corsi REL|
*All stats are for even strength
A few things are readily apparent. For one, his team’s shooting percentage when he’s on the ice is slightly higher than his norm so far this season. The second is that the team’s save percentage when he’s on the ice is well below par for his recent career. Shooting percentage is a stat that can easily fool people. However, if a player has raised their sh% only slightly, as is the case with Lupul’s ~2% increase from the norm, the cause is likely coming from linemates. Indeed, Phil Kessel’s 24 goals are the likely culprit to this jump. Lupul’s own goal totals have skyrocketed this year as well, with 0.43 goals per game this year from only 0.30 last season. This is, again, likely Lupul seeing more ice time with better linemates. Lupul’s quality of teammates statistic stands at 0.085 this year, compared to a dreadful -0.427 in 10/11.
PDO is a fairly simple guideline on what can be considered a “luck” stat. The general rule is that a PDO around 1000 is a perfect summation of a player’s true play. Of course, things aren’t so simple and we need to take each player on their own career norms. To construct a player’s PDO, we move the decimal point on their on-ice shooting percentage over one place to the right and then add it to their on-ice save percentage. So in 2011/12, for example, we add 117 and 900 to come up with 1017. There are two seasons where Lupul’s shooting percentage is above the norm: in 09/10 and 11/12. However, Lupul’s current PDO of 1017 is much more in line with his average of 1020.2 over the past five seasons than his 09/10 season’s 1050. In that shortened season, Lupul benefitted from stellar goaltending, something he hasn’t been afforded this season in Toronto. His goals per game that year was identical to this season’s 0.43, but he did so with almost three whole minutes less playing time per game. The conclusion here is that his high team shooting percentage in 09/10 was an outlier. However, with better linemates, his most recent team shooting percentage should be able to maintain a solid mean of ~10-11%.
Much has already been said of Lupul’s poor Corsi REL* in relation to Kessel. The stats don’t lie: Lupul is far worse than Kessel (4.7 Corsi REL) at directing shots at the opponent’s goal. There are a few reasons for this radical difference. Kessel takes longer shifts a far greater amount of the time, with the most frequent line coming on being Grabovski’s. Grabovski and Kessel are both quite fast and as such can start more creative chances with each other. This is also evident in Grabovski’s 11.2 Corsi REL. Lupul’s general lack of fast rushes has led to a wide range of Corsi REL numbers over the past five seasons, with a peak of 6.1 in 09/10 (which we have established was an outlier year for him) and a low of -9.2 last season. What becomes the most important factor in his Corsi is the centerman that he works with. Tim Connolly (-5.0) and Tyler Bozak (-4.9) also have poor Corsi ratings, due in large part to their trouble leaving their own zone during many shifts. A player of comparable speed to Lupul on the wing for Toronto is Nikolai Kulemin (2.1 Corsi REL), one who benefits greatly from the speed of Grabovski.
There just isn’t any evidence that Joffrey Lupul has hit a plateau, with a hard crash coming soon. His talent did not just appear out of thin air. He has benefitted from, and benefits, better linemates in Toronto than he had in Anaheim and to a degree in Philadelphia. His shooting percentage will definitely lower slightly, but his on-ice save percentage will likely improve through the better play of Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer’s return. As with so many players before him, Lupul has entered the prime of his career. At this point there is no reason to believe that he will be anything other than a consistent 65-80 point forward for at least another few years.
*Corsi REL is calculated by subtracting Corsi OFF from Corsi ON. Corsi ON is a stat based on subtracting the shots directed at a player’s own goal when he’s on the ice from those directed at the opponent’s goal when he’s on the ice. Corsi OFF is the team Corsi rating when that player is on the bench or not playing.