Joffrey Lupul stirred up everyone by making comments on social media claiming that the Leafs cheat when it comes to players failing physicals. He has since deleted those comments.
The truth is, you and I are not entitled to any player’s medical records. We aren’t entitled to a plain-language summary of a player’s medical status either. For all we all make jokes about the ubiquitous “upper body injury”, we aren’t even entitled to that. You can be offended at Mike Babcock’s joke about Nikita Zaitsev’s “middle body injury” while he was waiting for the announcement that Zaitsev’s wife had given birth — some people were — or you can realize that both the man, the baby and the baby’s mother are entitled to as much privacy as they want.
Fan trust in the League or any given team to act in an ethical manner isn’t high. This is not a shocking thing, given some past transgressions. But in a desire to see the NHL or the Toronto Maple Leafs or Lou Lamoriello personally as the villain of the piece (obviously none of this is Kyle Dubas’ fault) fans have vigorously bandied about the words “cap circumvention”.
So let’s look at that, and I shall proceed from the premise that I don’t know the medical status of any player at any time. I also am not willing to declare where the line is between career ending injury and just not very good anymore.
2015 - 2016 season
The Leafs finished that season under the cap by a small amount, but had used $36,644 in LTIR space. Cap Friendly (where all information comes from) lists only Nathan Horton as ever being placed on LTIR. That occurred on October 27.
Stephane Robidas, who did not play after the pre-season, spent the entire season on IR. His total cap hit counted at all times, and he was paid his full salary.
Joffrey Lupul played part of the year, was on IR for a two week period in December and played his last game on February 6, 2016. He was on IR from that point on. His total cap hit counted at all times, and he was paid his full salary.
2016 - 2017 season
The Leafs finished that season under the cap by a small amount, but had used $63,299 in LTIR space. Cap Friendly lists Stephane Robidas and Nathan Horton as being placed on LTIR on October 23, and Joffrey Lupul on October 24.
From those points on, their cap hits could be used to offset additional players added, but they were all paid their full salaries. The LTIR space created does not affect bonuses that exceed the cap and roll over to the following year.
At this point we have to start asking theoretical questions about intent. If the Leafs had never put either Robidas or Lupul on LTIR, the outcome in expenditures, cap space, and bonus overages would have been identical. Horton on LTIR was more than enough to cover the small amount of space the Leafs ultimately used. The could have signed some expensive free agent at the deadline and used that space. They didn’t.
This summer was when we all learned that there is indeed summer LTIR. However, we don’t know specifically who of the now two players who had failed physicals the Leafs had designated to LTIR. Maybe Horton and Lupul both, maybe not.
I refuse categorically to ever add up summer cap hits ever again! But in fact, Horton’s contract was enough to make the cap elastic enough from the time Connor Brown signed his contract until October 3 when teams will have to submit their 2017 - 2018 cap-compliant rosters. The could have signed Joe Thornton as well as Patrick Marleau and needed more space. They didn’t.
This summer was also the time of the expansion draft, and the NHL issued a list of players with career ending injuries who were exempt from the process. Horton and Robidas were on that list. Lupul was not. However, the Leafs reported that he had failed a physical at that time as well.
2017 - 2018 season
When I made a sample Leafs roster a few days ago, it had a total cap hit that could not be made compliant just with Horton on LTIR. It was close, though. While I had buried Eric Fehr’s contract in that example, the Leafs could trade him now for a conditional seventh or a player earning less than $1 million and solve the entire problem (if there is indeed any problem to be solved). There are likely a dozen other ways to achieve the same result.
Again, the Leafs could go over the cap and use Lupul’s LTIR, but they haven’t yet, and they don’t have to at all.
So there you have it. Aside from a host of questions about the timing of this claim of cheating by Lupul, his chance over at least three other physicals before now to contest the findings, and the curiosity of him speaking up only after his contract can’t be bought out, there has to date been no actual cap circumvention unless you doubt that Nathan Horton is permanently injured.
As to Lupul’s fitness to play hockey? I can only speculate. But I do know that contracts are guaranteed, playing time isn’t.