Straight Talk From Joffrey Lupul


It is a rare thing, but every so often an NHL player will move beyond banalities and say something interesting. Usually it is not a particularly good thing for the player involved.

I think Joffrey Lupul’s comments to Mike Brophy on line-mate Phil Kessel qualify on both counts.

The article, titled “Lupul sets a high standard,” features Lupul, Kessel and head coach Ron Wilson discussing the role of the players on the Leafs’ top line. For the most part, it’s a fairly standard piece – Kessel’s numbers are going to be used by many as a gauge for the line’s success, individual scoring numbers don’t matter as long as the team is winning, that sort of thing. Late in the piece, though, Lupul compares Kessel to ex-Flyers teammate Mike Richards. It’s a comment worth quoting in full:

“Mike is not as dynamic a player as Phil, but he’s definitely a world class player. He plays both ends of the rink so he doesn’t get the same pressure on him that Phil gets. If Phil isn’t scoring then people aren’t happy. Mike Richards, if he’s not scoring, he’s still killing penalties and blocking shots and stuff.”

On the plus side, Lupul calls Kessel “dynamic.” On the negative side, he comes pretty close to saying that Kessel’s a one-trick pony, strongly implying that he doesn’t play “both ends of the rink” and that if he isn’t scoring, he’s not doing much of anything. If Richards isn’t scoring, “he’s still killing penalties and blocking shots and stuff.” If Kessel’s not scoring, “people aren’t happy.”

I can’t seem to find any other way to read that comment.  Lupul’s contrasting the two players, and doing so in a way that makes it pretty clear that Richards’ game is a lot more complete than Kessel’s.

I’m not sure those comments are entirely unfair. Richards plays in more diverse situations and certainly takes on more defensive responsibility than Kessel. They play different roles, and there’s more value beyond the counting numbers in Richards’ role than there is in Kessel’s.

On the other hand, were I Phil Kessel I doubt I’d be thrilled that my line-mate felt the need to point out the somewhat one-dimensional nature of my game.

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  • Ol’ Phil often gets knocked for his defensive numbers (and it’s true they haven’t been great), but I don’t think that he’s a player whose effectiveness is limited to one zone. He backchecks, and doesn’t miss nearly the number of defensive assignments that people seem to think he does. The issue with Kessel is puck recovery – and it doesn’t matter what zone he loses the puck in – if the puck comes off his stick, he often just skates by or away from it.

    Now, in the game against Ottawa, when he scrummed for the puck behind the Sens net with less than a minute to go, people noticed. That wasn’t the Phil Kessel they’ve become used to watching. It should be noted, of course, that he DOES do this sometimes… just not enough.

  • Lupul might have been speaking of people expectations.

    People expect Mike Richards to do all that stuff, so it’s ok if he goes through droughts. Kessel is expected to light up the goal post every time he’s on the ice, so people get upset even if he’s back checking etc

  • Of course Lupul was talking about fan’s opinion. And he didn’t say anything that Kessel, and Lupul himself don’t know.

    The reality is that Kessel has to score, and if he doesn’t, he can’t help his team. He isn’t an elite PKer, or an average one, he isn’t physical so he scores or he doesn’t help.

    That is a fact. I don’t think he was ripping Kessel, because Kessel himself has stated he needs to score to contribute.