Over the last few weeks, as is tradition in Toronto, it appears that people have started to ask for more of these Leafs. More of what? More of everything. More from everyone.
There’s always plenty of criticism kicking around for a team that has barely done anything positive in a decade, and you’ll find it here often. But sometimes we start to want more from players that simply don’t have it to give. Most recently, one of those players is Joffrey Lupul.
I think some of this started when training camp opened this past week and Carlyle mentioned breaking up the top line, perhaps reuniting Kessel and Lupul. Sports radio guests, even guys like Ferraro, have called on Lupul to produce more, suggesting last season was a down year.
In 2011-12 Kessel and Lupul were absolutely on fire production-wise. It was the beginning of Kessel really hitting another level in his game, and Lupul was just as impressive. Lupul continued on that rampage with 18 points in the 16 games he suited up in during the following season, and had a new five-year contract as a result. In that total stretch, which conveniently rolls into 82 regular season games, Lupul ripped off 85 points. Obscene production for a guy who had never scored at that rate previously.
With the contract kicking in last season, Lupul was used in primarily a second-line role as van Riemsdyk had established himself on the top unit. His production “slipped”, and he finished with 44 points in 69 appearances.
Don’t get me wrong, no one was really expecting Lupul to be an above-point-per-game player forever, as he was clearly riding the percentages heavily, but last season was viewed as a poor performance for him when it was anything but.
The point per game Lupul put up with Phil Kessel was an aberration. He’s not a point per game player. However, he’s better than the .64PPG player he was last year (although 22 goals on the second line is still impressive).
Thing is, Lupul is actually a career 0.64PPG player exactly. So that level of output last season is perfectly in line with how he’s produced long-term. It might be easy to want more, but it shouldn’t be expected.
Petrielli is actually going on to make the point that the trade-off between moving Lupul back with Kessel can produce another spike in his numbers, while moving van Riemsdyk down with Kadri might only bring down his numbers marginally, creating more total offence. And I think that’s a totally fair proposal.
What might throw a wrench into all of this is that Lupul is hitting the wrong side of thirty years old this month. If he was to stay with Kadri, his production might begin to fade from his career pace, as he’s leaving his prime years behind. I’d argue that in a second-line role, 50 points through 82 games (0.60 PPG) would be as much as anyone could reasonably expect at this point. If he’s bumped to the top line again, like Petrielli mentioned, we’ll see what the trade-off is.
Reuniting Lupul with Kessel may not create the spike in production we think it could. Lupul is two years older, and instead of adding goals by swapping him and JVR, it might just be splitting the difference.
Moving on from Lupul, another player under some fire this summer is The Dream.
Dreger “what Kadri knows, and he’s fine with, is he has to be better than he was last year”
— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) September 23, 2014
Another guy who has to “do more” and find that offence he had pre-2014. But again, this is a second-line player. Look around the league at second-liners, very few are racking up 50+ points. The Ducks, for example, after Getzlaf and Perry, had Bonino at 49 points this past season. Arizona didn’t have a forward with more than 51 points. The Kings only had one player with more than 50.
It’s a simplistic way at looking at it, but the point is that the ceiling for all these key guys in the Leafs’ lineup can’t be in the clouds, and in someone like Lupul’s case, it might be time to accept a decline. For Kadri, he’ll likely need to take his rightful place on the top line to produce at a level most fans believe he’s capable of. It’s difficult to predict when that will happen.
The problems facing the team have been, and will continue to be, figuring out what the hell that blue-line is supposed to look like, better overall team defence through systems and added emphasis on puck-possession, and meaningful production from the guys lower in the lineup. There are new players in the mix, like Winnik, Booth, Komarov, Kontiola – it should be about seeing if they can chip in and round out the scoring, rather than asking even more from players at the top of the lineup who have already been producing at an incredible level.