Toronto re-signs Joffrey Lupul for five years

Not a bad weekend for Joffrey Lupul. A win on opening day, and a $26-million payday.

Toronto was rumoured to be in discussions with Lupul last night, and today they inked him to a five-year extension. Lupul was slated to be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Joffrey Lupul has some offensive talent and bounced around the league with stints in Anaheim, Edmonton, and Philadelphia before clicking on Toronto’s top line with Phil Kessel. Since then, he’s boosted his assist totals, and has produced like a dynamic offensive player worth of extension.

But the contract is problematic, especially locking up a player with a track record like Lupul’s. Here’s why:

This spring, when looking to see who drove the bus on Lupul’s on-ice even strength goals with Kessel, I found that the play was driven almost entirely by Kessel. Lupul is a passenger on that line, benefitting from his one talent as a strong finisher, isn’t a player who is that valuable on the roster. In fact, scoring goals is a replaceable talent.

Second, Lupul is in his age 30 season, and hasn’t played more than 70 games in a season since 2009. He has never played an 82-game season in his entire NHL career (although he’s come close twice). I laid out the importance of long-term health over at Canucks Army back during the lockout, but the crux of the argument is this: a player who can score 30 goals over an 82-game stretch isn’t valuable if he can only play 41 of those games.

Here is a chart of Joffrey Lupul’s injury history, by year.

  Games Missed Injuries
2004 1 (concussion)
2006 0  
2007 1 (flu)
2008 26 (concussion, sprained right ankle)
2009 12 (abdominal strain, back injury)
2010 52 (back surgery)
2011 28 (back surgery)
2012 16 (separated shoulder)

A player who has missed a minimum of 12 games in the last five years doesn’t seem like a candidate for a five-year extension. He’s the King of the Upper-Body Injury at this point, getting some good mileage out of that term. His back appeared to have recocvered last season, but he went out 16 games with a shoulder separation.

Third, Lupul has gotten lucky with Toronto. His Individual Point Percentage, the percentage of goals for on the ice in which a player recorded points, was a career high last season, at 74%, well-above his career average of 68%. (More on IPP here. Basically, outlying seasons should be recognized) That means he was simply getting more points as opposed to having ability that lends itself to getting more points. Lupul’s individual shooting percentage has jumped nearly two percentage points over his career average, yet he doesn’t score more goals than he did before he became a Leaf:

  Goals / 82 Points / 82 Shots / Game Sh%
Others 32.1 69.0 3.55 11.0
With Leafs 29.3 73.4 2.84 12.6

His shot rate has also declined, likely due to playing alongside a much better winger than him, one that always has the puck.

You don’t pay a player more than $5-million a year to not have the puck. Anybody can not have the puck.

Lupul was the ultimate “buy low, sell high” candidate. A player bought coming off of back surgery was traded alongside an excellent prospect for a defenceman with a year left on his contract. Lupul performed, or at least produced, and now does nothing but score points. Unfortunately, points isn’t what counts in this league. It counts in newspaper columns and hockey cards, but, just as there’s no tell-all advanced metric to base a players’ value, there is also no basic measure that will tell you the same thing.

Lupul scores points. And he does a mighty fine job at it. And he reduces Phil Kessel’s Corsi rate in Toronto from 50.9% to 47.9%. While Lupul has helped Kessel’s offence, he can’t play in his own end, can’t move the puck out of his own end, can’t move the puck through the neutral zone, and generates his scoring either by putting his stick on the ice or by passing it arbitrarily to the best player on the ice.

Joffrey Lupul has fans, and I can understand why. He’s a young, popular, handsome player with scores points and has become a fixture on Toronto’s top line for just under two years now. You don’t give out 5-year, $26-million contracts to players who are popular, you give out 5-year, $26-million contracts to good hockey players at both ends who can help your team add to its win total.

Brian Burke left a mess. He made the wrong call on Mike Komisarek, Colby Armstrong, Colton Orr and John-Michael Liles and now the Leafs are paying the price. This isn’t a team that’s going to improve by going in the same direction as Burke, one that gives out modified NTCs to players who have scraped together a couple of good years.

Good for Joffrey and congratulations on the extension. I have a feeling this one is going to be a headache in a couple of years.

  • You’re right about Lupul being terrible defensively and that he got lucky last year, but I think you’re underestimating how talented he is offensively.

    With Eric T.’s help, last year we found that Lupul boosts his teammates on-ice SH% by about half a percentage point, which isn’t as big as some of the best players in the league but it’s still pretty good. Also, his point scoring pace has typically been 1st line level throughout his career. 25 goals and 55-60 points isn’t something to scoff at.

    I don’t like the contract, especially because of Lupul’s age, but he is a legitimately talented offensive player.

    • …………..” In fact, Orr could be Kessel winger and score 20 games. Just terrible signing” …………….

      Score 20 games? Oh you mean goals. Right and no one else who’s played with Kessel in Toronto could score 20, but of course Orr could. Just a terrible comment.

      Also Lupul was on pace for 31 goals and Kessel’s numbers are better with Lupul than without. Why not worry about getting a much better center, that’s a big enough job it seems. With Lupul and Kessel’s offense all they need is an average #1 center who is solid at both ends.

  • So you missed one gigantic reason to keep him…

    Kessel in games played with Lupul – 101 points in 95 games. 1.06 PPG

    Kessel in games without Lupul – 12 points in 16 games. 0.75 PPG

    Lupul’s chemistry with Kessel is intense. It allows Kessel so much more room to work with.

      • Cam, you’re getting a bit crazy with this assists thing. It’s no coincidence that Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel assisted on so many of each other’s goals. Sure, both of their shooting percentages were high last year, and are likely to come down, but there is no question that Lupul is the first player with first-line offensive talent that Kessel has had the opportunity to play with, and there really isn’t any sense in simply throwing that away.

        I’m not wild about the length of Lupul’s deal, and the timing is indeed strange, but at some point the Leafs have to start keeping players that can contribute to the team in a meaningful way.

      • “The team hasn’t won. The team hasn’t won largely because it isn’t good enough at defence. Joffrey Lupul is weaker than Phil Kessel at defence.”

        So, the reason we should trade a very good offensive player who scores goals and makes the players around him score more goals is because the *team* hasn’t won and he isn’t good on defense? To me the priority should be to first get rid of the guys who can’t score goals as well as Lupul and can’t help his teammates (particularly Kessel) score goals as well as Lupul and who also suck at defense first. We have enough of those guys on the team, starting with Kessel and Lupul’s usual center. Once we get rid of the guys that are crappy at everything, if we are still losing we can start looking at the guys who are crappy at some things while really good at others.

      • Come on, you just summarily ignored something that is far too important to ignore. The arrival of lupul is directly related to kessel’s jump from a 30 goal scoring 60 point player to a 35 plus goal, point per game player. It’s uncanny how immediate lupuls presence (and lack thereof) affected kessel’s play.

        Kessel is key to this team winning. His points and goals directly lead to that. And lupul directly leads to kessel getting more of them.

        Ignoring that is borderline stupidity.

      • Markas

        “Points only count on newspaper columns and hockey cards.”

        Of course scoring or assisting on a goal is a meaningless stat. Goals don’t win games, shot differentials do!