What to do with Joffrey Lupul?

It’s not exactly breaking news that Joffrey Lupul skated with his teammates yesterday for the first time since injury, wearing a no-contact jersey and taking shots and participating in passing drills. That’s good news in his recovery, since the forearm is a necessary part of the body to take shots and pass well.

It does create a bit of a mess in Toronto’s top nine as to what you do with Lupul when he comes back from injury. Michael Traikos notes that he’s “six-and-a-half weeks into an injury that was expected to keep him out six-to-eight weeks”. Lupul himself said he’s day-to-day.

When Lupul went out, he was skating on a line with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak. In Lupul’s absence, James van Riemsdyk has taken a spot on the top line. van Riemsdyk has seven goals and four assists alongside Phil Kessel this season after he earned a promotion from a lesser role alongside Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov to start the season.

As a refresher, here were the Leafs lines opening night with all the healthy Leafs in the lineup:

Joffrey Lupul – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur – Mikhail Grabovski – Nik Kulemin
James van Riemsdyk – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Mike Brown – Jay McClement – Colton Orr

The team has changed a little bit since then. Clarke MacArthur and James van Riemsdyk have been used at some point as the left winger on each of the first three units. Matt Frattin was called up to replace Lupul and was slot alongside Kadri and Komarov. Frazer McLaren was claimed off waivers and Mike Brown was traded. Colton Orr played next to Nazem Kadri. Jay McClement, in time that Lupul and Frattin have been out, upgraded his part-time job alongside Grabovski and Kulemin and turned that into a full-time gig.

So the Leafs haven’t had to run a lineup with all three of van Riemsdyk, Lupul and Frattin just yet, but it’s a decision that will have to be made. Scary thought: Bob MacKenzie was on the radio today and apparently said the following:

This is not good news. Toronto’s biggest concern is they have too many players in the lineup who historically give up a lot of shots. Joffrey Lupul is not as important as some fans may think, as evidenced by the fact that the first line has been doing just fine, goal-scoring-wise, in his absence. Their issue is on defence, and Lupul, who has historically low puck-possession rates, does not help that. van Riemsdyk can do more with the puck in both the offensive and neutral zones.

According to Traikos, Lupul skated on a line alongside Grabovski and Kulemin. That’s currently Jay McClement’s role, but he’s been used in situations sparingly on the fourth line at five-on-five before. If everything else fell into play, the lines would be the following:

James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Mikhail Grabovski – Nik Kulemin
Clarke MacArthur – Nazem Kadri – Matt Frattin
Frazer McLaren – Jay McClement – Colton Orr

Unfortunately, that leaves no room for Leo Komarov, who has played pretty well I think, unless Randy Carlyle decides to finally get rid of either Orr or McLaren from the lineup. I think it’s pretty bad to require one fighter, let alone two, particularly when David Steckel is also sitting out. Steckel, McClement and Komarov are all good face-off threats who can play any bottom-six position, and trading Kulemin or MacArthur to accommodate Frazer McLaren or Colton Orr in the lineup is such a silly idea that even Dave Nonis wouldn’t go through with it.

The line that Traikos suggests was run at practice also would not make sense. A more optimized unit would be:

Clarke MacArthur – Mikhail Grabovski – Nik Kulemin
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – Matt Frattin

The Kadri line is the sheltered scoring line on the Leafs, and seeing less ice-time, they’re less likely to match up against tough competition. Comparatively, Grabovski and Kulemin are matched against other teams’ top lines more than any other two forwards in the NHL. They played with MacArthur in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. MacArthur has historically better possession numbers than Lupul and his worse offensively, so the takeaway is that he’s likely much, much better defensively than Joffrey can be.

Of course, in a week or so when Lupul is ready to come back, it’s entirely possible that Toronto has another injury to deal with that would allow Lupul to seamlessly slide back into the lineup. Trading players to accommodate the return of other players, rather than forcing good players down the depth chart and improving the team, is such an unbelievably dumb idea that I put it so far past Nonis and Carlyle to ever try.

I think if they don’t move Bozak off the first line, they should go with the 2nd and 3rd lines I’ve put up there, and run with a Komarov-McClement-Steckel fourth line, using Colton Orr or Frazer McLaren in case of injury.

  • I really don’t understand why the lineup that is so abundantly obvious to people like us is not obvious to the Leafs’ brass…

    #1 JVR-Bozak-Kessel
    #2 Mac-Grabo-Kule
    #3 Lupul-Kadri-Frattin
    #4 McClement-Steckel-Komarov

    #1 you keep off against opposing #1 lines, but play heavily in all other situations
    #2 is the obvious power v. power line
    #3 is the sheltered scoring line
    #4 is the shutdown defensive line

    Load up on d-zone starts for #4 so that #2 can spend a bit more time in the o-zone

    Lupul-Kadri-Kessel as your #1 PP
    JVR-Grabo-Mac as your #2 PP
    McClem-Kule as your #1PK
    Steckel-Komarov as your #2PK (and rotate grabo in there as needed)

    The forward group should become better when Lupul returns. Why move a valuable piece when you can get rid of some of the dead weight (Orr/McClaren).

    I loved the Brown move because it got rid of an unskilled player to make room for a skilled one. Why suddenly are they getting rid of one skilled player for another?

    Stupid stupid stupid Leafs mgmt.

  • Mpsenicka

    Cam your analysis of the leafs never disappoints; the lineup that you propose should be tested for a game or two. If Kadri can pick up some chemistry with Lupul and maintain his pace I don’t think Joffrey would complain about being on the third line. We can always throw Mac back with Kadri if it doesn’t work out.

  • CheezWhizard

    Is it totally out of the question to put Lupul back on the first line? Just put JVR with Kadri and Frattin. I thought Kessel had better chemistry with Lupul than with JVR.

    Also I love the idea of a Komarov-McClement-Steckel 4th line but if you’re gonna have a talented 4th line why not call up Ryan Hamilton and see if he can get some chemistry with McClement?

  • CheezWhizard

    Totally agree with this, especially the 4th line. Even if Carlyle doesn’t want to get rid of both Orr and McLaren, he can at least get rid of one of them, and still have McClement and Komarov on the 4th line, although I agree with having Steckel there instead. If they make the playoffs, this is definitely the plan they should go with.

  • CheezWhizard

    Is trading Lupul not a possibility. Not typical but it has occurred with richards/carter/jvr with his history sign and trade. Lupul is a fine player, who is benefiting from playing with kessel. That said, he has defensive challenges and a big contract.

  • CheezWhizard

    I like the lines as Cam suggested. However I can’t imagine Carlyle not icing at least one enforcer.

    I would love to see something like this….