The naming of Joffrey Lupul as an alternate captain and the announcement of his charity initiative Lupes Troops (granted this doesn’t always guarantee a spot in Toronto for the indefinite future) in recent days were both indicators that Nonis and Carlyle see Lupul as a face of the franchise going forward. Faces of the franchise usually need long term contracts, but few would’ve expected one for Lupul this soon in the season.
When you boil it down, the Leafs just paid Lupul to be the player he was last season for five more seasons after this shortened one. There is some risk in that. Lupul will have entered his thirties by the time the contract takes hold, he’s got the history of injuries that he didn’t buck even in his comeback season last year (missed sixteen games, would’ve been more if it didn’t happen late in the season), and his resume as a point per game player begins and ends with said single season of 67 points in 66 games.
But I think you have to look at this deal in the wider context of the Leafs’ theoretical build towards contention, and the core of the group they intend on doing it with. It would be different if Burke had never traded for a couple of established assets who are now in their prime in 2013 and instead had the Leafs traveling the finish-low, draft-high route. Dave Nonis has to be thinking about Kessel and Phaneuf, the leader of his offense and defense respectively who both are on contracts expiring after next season, when he makes this decision on Lupul. What chance does he have of selling a winning vision to Kessel when the two sides start the negotiating process, presumably this summer, if he’s sold off the one offensive talent on the team that has actually helped Kessel touch his potential? There’s nothing to indicate either player wants to be anywhere but Toronto going forward, but how do you ask them to buy into the program with a reasonable long term contract, instead of pushing their GM for full market value, when you’re still tearing blocks down come the summer of 2013? Between this deal and the Grabovski contract last spring, we’re seeing a belief from management in this core group’s ability to contend once the right surrounding pieces are in place.
Would I have waited for at least half of this 48-game season to play out, by which point Lupul hopefully has 20 points and is still healthy, before inking the deal? Maybe, but maybe by then the price would’ve gone up.
We know how talented Phil Kessel is, on this day after he put up two points in the season opener following an eight-month layoff from competitive hockey, his 83rd and 84th points in his last 83 games as a Leaf. It’s hard to imagine a player of Lupul’s obvious talent, regardless of the health or inconsistency concerns over the course of his career, doing anything but producing on his opposite wing when he’s in the lineup, especially when there’s chemistry present and their two skill sets are complementary.
Not that these grow on trees, but there’s also the potential to augment this line with a number one center that can also bring some defensive proficiency to the table. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Notes on the contract:
- 5 years, 26.25 million, with a 5.25 million cap hit.
- Limited no-trade clause included; Lupul can be traded to 14 teams.
- Closest comparables in terms of cap hit, age and length of contract: Jason Pominville, Mikhail Grabovski, Ryan Kesler
- The Leafs have now committed $47 million to 13 players for next season under the projected $64.3 million cap.
- The Leafs now have four players signed past July 1, 2014: Lupul, James van Riesmdyk, Mikhail Grabovski, John Michael Liles
- Lupul and van Riesmdyk are the only two Leafs signed past July 1, 2017.