Should the Leafs trade Lupul?
I think trading Joffrey Lupul should be considered.
There, I said it. Now let’s just get right into it. The Leafs are in a bit of a cap crunch and the strongest aspect of their lineup is on the wing. In the top-6 they’ve got the skill of Kessel leading the way, with good support from JvR and Lupul. Newcomer David Clarkson rounds out the group nicely, providing some skill and a lot of sandpaper to create a nice balance. Add versatile checkers like Kulemin and McClement and it becomes a pretty enviable collection of wingers throughout the lineup. All this after they lost depth in MacArthur and Frattin over the summer, too.
The Leafs’ biggest areas of concern are up the middle and in the top-4 portion of their defense corps. There are solutions that exist from within, at least where D is concerned (Rielly, Percy, Granberg, Blacker, Finn, Nilsson serve as potential top 4 to 6 replacements in the near and more distant future), but there’s no question that with Kadri owning a full-time NHL gig, they lack skill at centre ice both in the pipeline, and elsewhere in the roster. Bozak has become the permanent “temporary” fix as a 1C, but that needs to change and with little financial flexibility, this is certainly an option to mull over.
But why Lupul? Well, presumably the Leafs would be looking for some kind of significant help to bolster their weak areas, and that requires giving up a piece of equal or somewhat equal significance in any potential package. Of the aforementioned group, it’s safe to say Kessel is a must-keep. Though he’s a pending UFA, there’s no need to deal Kessel unless there is absolutely no progress in the talks for an extension. Fingers crossed that some sort of verbal agreement can be reached at some point during the season. JvR is a young and strong forward on the rise and under a quality contract, so let’s hang on to him. Clarkson was just signed, so I doubt he’s getting traded (plus that contract will be an albatross before you know it, so he’s not going anywhere). McClement and Kulemin, as serviceable as they are, don’t exactly lend themselves to landing a big haul. So that leaves us with Lupul.
Before you go grabbing your pitchforks, let me say that I’m thrilled that Lupul is a Leaf. Who wouldn’t be? He’s done nothing but produce in the games he’s been healthy with 103 points in 110 games. The problem is he hasn’t been very healthy, and while it’s not really any fault of his own, it certainly impairs the Leafs’ ability to consistently ice their best lineup.
The Leafs have also had success with Lupul out of the lineup. Take this past season, for example. The winger was out with injury for all but 16 regular season games and the Leafs finished 5th in the East. Lupul is on a very affordable contract for what he’s brought to the rink since donning the Blue and White making 5.25M in now his mid to late prime. So this is a player that has plenty to like which makes him an attractive commodity, at a position that the Leafs have strength on the roster.
The Leafs don’t have an asset with this much value right now that can also be somewhat replaced. That’s not calling Lupul or what he brings to the rink replaceable, but with budding talent in the system like Josh Leivo, and the rest of the depth at wing on the roster, the Leafs can afford to cash-in right now.
Much like at a casino, it’s not unwise to cash out when you’re up big. With Lupul’s value at an all-time high, you can bet the return would be something that appeals to fans; As unpopular an opinion as it may be, the Leafs need help up the middle and Lupul will soon be 30 and on the path to regression.
Colorado is now loaded with talent at centre in Duchene, O’Reilly, Stastny and MacKinnon, and while they could certainly convert one or more into a winger as they have in the past, there could be a conversation to be had there. That’s just a spitball to get discussion going, but before we get into target players, I wonder what Leafs Nation has to say about the thought of trading Lupul in the first place…