Ok - full disclosure: I am not a fan of Joffrey Lupul. I appreciate that he has been a top point producer in recent seasons but his defensive short comings make me far more annoyed and lead me to fits of apoplexy so I can't say I'm unhappy with Lupul's injury from a team building perspective. That being said, I think an argument can be made that should convince many Lupul fans that his injury actually helps the continued development of the franchise, despite what articles like THIS might have you think.
Statistically Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak were neck and neck for most massive defensive black holes in the NHL universe last season. I personally would give the nod to Lupul thanks to the fact that he had the second most Fenwick events against per 60 mins of 5v5 hockey in the NHL last year. The only player to surrender more was Lauri Korpikoski of the Phoenix Coyotes who happened to have an OZ% around 43 compare to Lupul's 54. In other words: Lupul was being handed far easier minutes and doing comparably as bad.
Lupul's play and the team's ability to surrender goals against last year actually led to him being a NEGATIVE (-0.18 GA/60) last year at 5v5 while on the ice. He was a point per game player who led the Leafs in assists and he was a negative at even strength. Think about that for a second and let it sink in.
He did produce very well on the power play with a Pts/60 rate over 5.00 with the man advantage. He also produces over 2.0 Pts/60 at ES, so his offensive game does legitimately put him in the echelon of top line forwards. But he shouldn't be playing top line minutes with the crap he gives up defensively.
We had been hearing this season about his re-dedication to fitness and the fact that Randy Carlyle and he had mended their relationship post-Anaheim. Lupul was a "different" and "more mature" player, and his injury issues would be left in the past as he rode into the sunset of his career with a brand spanking new 5 year, $26.25 million dollar deal that takes him through his age 34 season.
Unfortunately injury bugs seem to have a habit of following Lupul around the NHL anywhere he plays. This is a guy that hasn't played a full season of NHL hockey since 2008-09 when he suited up for 79 games in Philadelphia. Even there he missed 26 games in the 2007-08 season due to a broken wrist and a concussion.
Over the years he has also suffered from abdominal strain and back strain which turned into a back "injury" that required back surgery which led to him missing 80 games across parts of 2 seasons. Then he separated his shoulder in his first full season in Toronto and missed the final 16 games of the season last year. Now 3 games into his second "full" season - and right after inking that tres expensive extension - he's been hit by a Phaneuf shot and gone and fractured his forearm.
Yes the guy may just have crappy luck but this is NOT a player that you pin hopes and dreams on with the idea that he blossoms into an 82 game regular. I am still baffled that the Leafs felt pressure to sign one of their most expensive players to an extension this early in his final season before going UFA. At least make the guy work for his money.
The irony here is, had they waited until this type of thing happened, they could have theoretically gotten Lupul a fair sight cheaper - but what's done is done and that's not really why I'm writing this article. You see my main reason for believing this injury is actually not a bad thing - in fact is a good thing - is that it opens the door of opportunity for some young Leafs.
Toronto has recalled Matt Frattin - the last forward cut from training camp - as Lupul's replacement, and we're suddenly shifted back into a development scenario. One of either newly acquired James Van Riemsdyk or Clarke MacArthur will slot in alongside Kessel and Bozak, and Frattin can step into a spot on the 3rd line alongside Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov. So far that's worked out well on the basis of his first game this season, as Frattin and Kadri combined for 2 goals and 3 assists versus the Islanders.
What many people fail to realize is that Frattin's production this year with the Marlies has often been tied to the play of Nazem Kadri and fellow former Marlie Mike Kostka. On Frattin's 9 goals this season in the AHL, 8 have come during the regular run of play - 1 was a penalty shot. Of those 8 goals, 7 were assisted upon by either Nazem Kadri or Mike Kostka. He plays well with these guys offensively. He also played minutes together with Kadri and Jake Gardiner during last season's Calder Cup drive with the Marlies. Their comfort level together would go a long way to helping them continue to develop at the NHL level.
Having a lot of Marlies play together with the Leafs shouldn't be taken as a bad thing - championship caliber minor league players (i.e. Kostka, Kadri, Gardiner, Frattin, etc.) often take that next step to become NHL level talent. Look at what happened between Binghamton two seasons ago and then into last year when Ottawa made the playoffs.
So what was Lupul up to so far this season and what can we project as the eventual playing opportunity for his fill ins. In his first 2 games Lupul had seen a total of 36:33 in ice time and was on track to play 20:47 against the Penguins in his 3rd game of the season before leaving the ice for X-rays. He'd played 20:24 against Buffalo in the second game of the season and we should likely assume his minutes were probably going to remain in the 18-20 range for most nights he'd be in the line up. This means we have around 19 minutes freed up to go to other skaters.
Clarke MacArthur was immediately promoted to Lupul's spot on the top line for the remainder of the night while James Van Riemsdyk continued to patrol the wing alongside Grabovski and Kulemin - a trio that was remarkably more effective on the night and produced 3 of the Leafs' 5 goals on the evening. MacArthur only played 5 shifts in the first period of the game while Lupul played 9 with both players seeing roughly 45 seconds a shift. In the second period the shifts played reversed and MacArthur ended the night playing 22 shifts in total which saw his ice time climb over 7 minutes in the third period. His total time on ice for the evening was only 16:08 but had he patrolled Kessel's wing for the entire game he may have seen something closer to 20:15 in actual ice time based on his usage during the last period and a half in the game.
MacArthur has produced when his minutes have been increased historically. Over the past two seasons he has produced 1.99 and 2.25 pts/60 at 5v5 respectively which means he legitimately puts up points like a first line player at even strength. His average over his entire tenure with the Leafs is 2.13 pts/60 at 5v5 in 155 gp while averaging only 13:48 in 5v5 ice time per game. In the 3rd period of the Pittsburgh game, his ES TOI jumped from under 3 minutes to over 6. If MacArthur were to average slightly over 15 minutes of ES TOI per night while Lupul is out of the lineup for 4 to 6 weeks, we can speculate about his likely range of production.
Over the next 4 to 6 weeks the Leafs play between 15 and 22 games. Let's average that and round to 18 games to estimate on the low side. If MacArthur sees an extra minute and a half of ice time a night at ES we can expect him to play an extra 27 minutes in these situations over that stretch. 27 minutes may seem like a minuscule amount in the grand scheme of an NHL season, and it likely only adds up to 1 more point for MacArthur over his usual output at evens but that's actually not a bad thing, because someone has to replace MacArthur's 14 or so minutes in the line up nightly.
If we assume the most likely candidate is Matt Frattin, he's going to get a solid opportunity over the next 20ish games to show what he can do in the NHL. He's a more developed player this year and he deserves the opportunity despite a lull in his offensive production at the AHL level. Frattin has now played in 57 NHL games and will be eligible for waivers once he passes the 60 games played mark. That means he'll have to pass waivers to be demoted back to the farm and likely won't last as a Leaf if they think of moving him.
If we take the rumours of Colton Orr being on the team in order to make his pension seriously, that likely makes for an interesting situation when Lupul returns - although it's entirely possible someone else suffers an injury in the interim (perhaps even Frattin himself).
If we assume Frattin can improve slightly on his 0.27 ppg production in 13:10 of ice time last season, perhaps raising it to around 0.35 ppg, we'll be getting decentish production from a 3rd liner who is still rounding out his game.
The last factor to consider is the increased PP opportunity for the likes of Kadri, Kulemin, MacArthur, JvR, et al, with Lupul out of the line up. Lupul averaged 3.15 minutes of ice time at 5v4 for every 60 minutes of game time last year. MacArthur averaged 1.97. So far this season MacArthur has seen his average jump to 3.43 so far, Kadri is at 2.55, JvR is at 2.29 and Kulemin is at 0.83. If Lupul's extra minutes get handed out to other players, all of those guys should see a jump in their TOI and likely their PP production improves also.
This injury has done wonders to clear out the log jam on the wing and taken in concert with the Connolly and Lombardi maneuvers earlier this season, allow the Leafs to basically run the lines they should be going with for their future development right now. I look forward to seeing how they play as a unit and hopefully everyone of us can be satisfied with the results - whether or not we're fans of Lupul.