Toronto re-signs Joffrey Lupul for five years

Updated: January 20, 2013 at 11:36 am by Cam Charron

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.