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Lupul succeeding in checking role under Babcock

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Editor's note: Please welcome Katya Knappe as the newest addition to the PPP staff!

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Joffrey Lupul has been given a tough job on Mike Babcock's Maple Leafs. He's spent a lot of time on the checking line playing minutes against the top lines of the Leafs' opponents, and has the sixth hardest zone starts among regular forwards. While doing that he's scored eight times, which is good for second place on the team in goals.

Lupul is also the highest paid forward on the team, and he just turned 32. While no one should expect a 32-year-old to play up to the level enjoyed in his youth, it's worth taking the temperature of Lupul's play so far.

The Data

I've taken a method developed by Bruce McCurdy and the Edmonton Journal, and used at Copper & Blue, to take a look at how Lupul's season so far stacks up against his career average.

The comparison is restricted to only Lupul's Toronto career, so the average in the table below measures his performance from age 26 through 31. I've also removed the lockout season from his career average. He played only 23 games that year but enjoyed a very uncharacteristically high shooting percentage. Recognizing that that set of 23 games isn't very representative of his abilities overall should remind us that this year's 23 games played might not be either.

All numbers are 5-on-5 and are not score adjusted.


Games and Time on Ice Scoring Rates Shot Rates Relative to Team On Ice Goals Luck
Season Team Games TOI/Gm G60 A160 PrP60 CF60 CA60 CF% SCF% HSCF% GF% GF60 GA60 PSH% OSv%
2010-11 ANA/TOR 54.00 12.30 0.90 0.27 1.17 50.50 73.40 -7.00 -5.90 0.92 -3.10 2.40 2.90 10.30 92.10
2011-12 TOR 66.00 14.60 0.90 0.94 1.84 61.60 65.40 -0.40 -0.50 1.05 2.60 3.40 3.60 10.60 89.80
2012-13 TOR 23.00 13.80 1.90 0.76 2.66 55.00 71.10 -0.50 1.40 0.99 10.90 4.20 2.50 19.60 93.60
2013-14 TOR 69.00 14.80 0.80 0.47 1.27 51.30 69.30 -0.30 -0.10 1.01 -4.40 2.20 3.00 9.80 91.80
2014-15 TOR 55.00 12.60 0.70 0.43 1.13 51.20 65.10 -2.40 -2.30 1.02 5.00 2.90 3.00 10.40 91.40
Average (without 2012-13): 13.58 0.83 0.53 1.35 53.65 68.30 -2.53 -2.20 1.00 0.03 2.73 3.13 10.28 91.28
2015-16 TOR 23.00 12.60 1.00 0.00 1.00 48.70 63.40 -6.20 -7.20 0.96 -0.10 1.50 1.70 12.50 94.90
2015-16 Season vs. Average:
0.18 -0.53 -0.35 -4.95 -4.90 -3.68 -5.00 -0.04 -0.12 -1.23 -1.43 2.23 3.63

There's a lot of negative numbers in that bottom line. Not all negatives are bad though; in the shots or goals against a negative is an improvement over the average.

In his Toronto years Lupul has never been a positive driver of shot differential or scoring chances, but he has consistently been a positive force for high-danger scoring chances. He does like to camp out at the net, and that hasn't changed.

He is doing much worse in overall shot differential than usual, but this should not be a surprise. He has spent the majority of the season playing with Nick Spaling and Daniel Winnik. In their role as a checking line, they have put up the worst Corsi numbers on the team by a large margin.

Lupul's CF60 this year is significantly below his average and is the worst of his career as a Leaf. Remarkably, his CA60 is also much lower; the lowest of his Leaf career. At a time when he is playing a checking role, he is still performing the best defensively he ever has on this team. You have to go all the way back to his best year in the NHL at age 24 to find a number lower than that.

Lupul is also scoring goals at a higher than average rate, while showing only a slightly elevated Shooting %. He has no primary assists and his GF%is lower than it usually is, which may say more about his linemates than it does him. His most frequent linemate in the previous two years was Nazem Kadri so his usage this year has been an extreme change.

A deeper look at Lupul and his two most frequent linemates shows that he and Spaling together are dramatically more than the sum of their parts in GF% while Spaling is a drag on Lupul's CF%. A glance at Winnik and Lupul together show where all the goals are coming from, while Lupul is a positive force for CF% with Winnik as well.

Impressions

I never expected to see Joffrey Lupul succeed as well as he has in his new role. Normally you don't put your $5M+ guy on the checking line, but these aren't normal times.

It's easy to give Babcock all the credit for the lower CA60, but Lupul is out there on the ice positively contributing to that measure of success. I can't help but think that with a different centre, Lupul and Winnik might be even better.

It remains to be seen if Lupul can keep up this level of defensive play, up the offence, score goals, and play out the season on the ice more than he's off. Has he peaked? Or will he get better? Will he stay on the checking line or is that system already being phased out?

Meet me back here in March and we'll talk about it.

Credits

War on Ice
Puckalytics SuperWOWY
General Fanager
HockeyViz