As the Toronto Maple Leafs gathered at MasterCard Centre on Thursday for medical testing and the official open of training camp, forward Joffrey Lupul was nowhere to be found.
Since suffering a sports hernia injury in February that ended his season, Lupul, who turns 33 on Friday, has practically been a ghost. He had surgery to correct his ailment and was said to be rehabbing throughout the summer. Yet Lupul hasn’t been a presence in Toronto during informal workouts leading up to camp and for the first time in recent memory he didn’t make an appearance at the team’s annual charity golf tournament on Sept.12.
The reason why was revealed early Thursday morning — he has been placed on injured reserve after failing a physical in Toronto last week.
“Once rehab [was over] there was a chance of [Lupul] getting back on the ice,” Lamoriello said. “He got on the ice, and had the same discomfort. So we brought him back [to Toronto] and he saw our doctors and when he went through the physical, we both felt he wouldn’t be able to play. He’s very disappointed. He worked very hard at it this summer…He’s going to continue to work at it, wants to play, and we’ll have to wait and see.”
In a separate statement, Lupul said this was an “extremely emotional time” and pledged to “work hard with a view to return to playing this season.” Whether that’s realistic, or if the Maple Leafs would have a meaningful place for him down the line, is unclear.
Lupul carries an annual $5.25 million cap hit for two more seasons. Toronto frees up a roster spot with him on IR and has the option of placing him on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) to create cap space too (the team already has Nathan Horton, with a degenerative back injury, primed for LTIR).
You don’t need to look far for the last example of a Maple Leafs player with a large cap hit being deemed too hurt to start the season. Defenceman Stephane Robidas, carrying a $3 million cap hit through the end of the season, was said to have suffered an injury on the last day of training camp in 2015 and was placed on IR. He hasn’t skated for them since. Robidas failed his own physical recently and has taken on a consultant role with the Leafs prospects in lieu of playing this year. He can join Horton and possibly Lupul on LTIR.
One player who is on track for recovery from injury is goaltender Frederik Andersen. Per team rules, Andersen, who is still rehabbing a shoulder injury suffered while playing overseas in August, was not made available to the media on Thursday. But Lamoriello said the original three-to-four-week timeline for Andersen’s return is still reasonable.
“He’s progressing. We’re certainly not going to rush anything,” Lamoriello said. “Until he’s ready, we’re not going to have any comment. He is progressing. He has had no setbacks. Hopefully he’ll be [ready] at the time we originally thought.”
Fortunately, a training camp roster of 79 players (minus three on IR) means the Maple Leafs won’t be short on players to step into a role. But even among the masses, all eyes will be on forward Mitch Marner as he pushes for an NHL roster spot. Marner said he’s gained five pounds over the summer, but more importantly he thought he’d gotten stronger, which is what the team asked of him.
“We hope the next step is there for [Marner],” Lamoriello said. “He’s going to be given every opportunity. We all know the type of career he has had in junior, we all know what he has done. Right now we’ll just focus in on the camp he has and a decision will be made from camp. He’ll be given every opportunity and he has as good a chance as anyone to be here.”
The Leafs open their preseason schedule with a game on Monday night in Halifax before returning to Toronto for the duration. Eight players, plus head coach Mike Babcock, are listed on the camp roster but have been a part of the World Cup. Whether their international teams have been eliminated or not by the end of round robin play Thursday night, those players won’t travel to Halifax. And even if Babcock is only with his team in spirit, it will be felt by everyone.
“Coach Babcock is obviously the leader around here, and he’s everywhere,” said forward Brooks Laich. “He’s definitely going to have an eye on things. There’s not going to be any slacking just because he’s not here. Camp is going to be intense, there’s going to be a lot of competition. It is a little different because [Babcock] is such a big presence, but just because he’s not here doesn’t mean we’re going to approach it any differently.”
With the pain of last year's struggles dissipating and a stable of young players to assess, Lamoriello is already hopeful the omen for a better season ahead starts now.
“I think it’s going to be a very competitive camp. We do have depth in just about every position at different levels,” he said. “And there’s always an unexpected. You always hope the unexpected is in a positive light instead of a negative. We’re all looking forward to it, just to simply see where the unknown is.”