Joffrey Lupul blossomed into a revered figure for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Over the past two years he has become the darling for both fans and media alike. A productive player who is always ready and willing to give a good quote. It was a match made in heaven for Lupul and the NHL’s biggest market.
Lupul broke out in Toronto following his arrival from the Anaheim Ducks. Originally thought to be a salary dump – whom the Leafs were forced to absorb in order to acquire Jake Gardiner – Lupul instantly became a factor alongside Phil Kessel for the remainder of the 2010-11 season. He tallied 18 points in 28 games to finish that year. Lupul provided Kessel with a talented partner that he had been long missing on that line. Through the next two years Lupul became an impact player. Over that stretch he recorded 85 points in 82 games. His 1.03 points per game average was a dramatic jump for a guy who had only registered a .57 through the first 449 games of his career. Had Lupul really taken that step into stardom that many in this town had bestowed upon him or did everything just go right for the guy?
This season Lupul has seen his numbers drop back down to earth. He has “only” 39 points in 60 games and has seen his points per game average drop down to .65. Having looked at as many things as I could, I think the 2013-14 Lupul is the true version and the one for the two years prior wasn’t. Make no mistake, Lupul is still a very valuable member of the Leafs team and still a very capable scorer. I just think the days of him being a point per game elite player were short lived and in the past.
It isn’t a normal occurrence for a player to see such a dramatic spike in production at 28 years old like Lupul did and have it remain at that level. They may have a year where everything they touch turns to gold, but eventually they fall back down to who they were prior. It’s something that the Leafs are currently experiencing with Tyler Bozak. Bozak was a .56 point per game player through the first 238 games of his NHL career. He has “emerged” into a .89 guy this season, but all signs point to him (just as Lupul did) regressing to his normal self sooner rather than later.
At first I thought Lupul’s struggles this season were due to him not going to the dirty areas like he was in the past, or that he wasn’t getting as many shots on net per game. Maybe it was his power play time or time on ice. There had to be a reason for his drop this season. It’s also not even about the points this year. Lupul just doesn’t look the same on the ice. Through those 85 games he was a dominant player. This season he has become a secondary guy in all facets of the game. This just hasn’t been the case though. Lupul’s shots per game this season are similar to the big years (11-12: 3.13, 12-13: 2.62 and 13-14: 2.83). As for where the shots are coming from, those numbers are very similar as well (11-12: 24.8′, 12-13: 26.3′ and 13-14: 26.8′). As for ice time, Lupul is averaging 19:36 this season (2:29 on the power play), 16:07 (2:29) in 2012-13 and 19:37 (3:16) in 2011-12. The big difference that I have found is Lupul’s inconsistency this year. Through 60 games this season Lupul has been held pointless 31 times. In the 85 games prior, he was held off the scoresheet 25 times.
So, what happened? Nothing unexpected really. Lupul had a dominant season alongside Kessel in 2011-12. He saw slightly more power play time that season, averaged slightly more shots per game and his average distance per shot was a little lower. Removing him from a line that featured one of the best scorers in the NHL was definitely going to effect his production. Last season, he had an unbelievable (and unsustainable) 26.2 shooting percentage. Lupul is now what he is probably going to be for the duration of his contract ($5.25 through 2017-18) a very good second line player capable of providing offensive support. The sooner we begin to accept Lupul as that and not the all-star winger and inspirational leader many have labelled him as the sooner we can be happy. Expecting anything more will probably lead to disappointment.