The Leafs moved to lock up a significant piece of their core on Sunday, inking Joffrey Lupul to a five-year deal worth $26.25 million.
It appears a prudent move for a productive player, albeit one with some risk.
Lupul, 29, has been a consistent performer since he landed in Toronto two years ago this February, teaming with Phil Kessel to form one of the more prolific offensive combinations in the league. In 94 games with the Leafs, he's posted 34 goals and 85 points, including a career-high 42 assists and 67 points last year.
Health, not performance, is the primary point of risk in this deal. Lupul has played in more than 70 games just once in the past five seasons – 2008-09 with Philadelphia – lingering back injuries punctuating those concerns during his final two seasons in Anaheim. Those issues, specifically, are now in the past, but injuries nonetheless remain part of the track record, including a late season shoulder injury last year.
What surely subsides those concerns for the organization is the commitment and understanding Lupul has shown to fitness in recent years, a realization forced upon him by the experience of said injuries. "Now I come to the rink everyday – whether it's a game or practice – with a purpose, to get better at something or stronger in the weight room or take care of my body so eight years from now hopefully I can still be playing," he told TSN.ca last February.
"The injuries, yes, there's always risk," said Leafs GM Dave Nonis by conference call on Sunday, before citing Lupul's perseverance in surmounting those back issues. "One of the things we looked at was how hard is he prepared to overcome those [injuries].
"I remember last year when I asked Joffrey to come to Europe to join Team Canada, he said no because he needed to spend more time to prepare for this season --- he's very, very focused in terms of his body right now and being healthy."
An example in terms of that commitment off the ice, Lupul is also looked upon for leadership in a generally inexperienced dressing room. He showed himself to be accountable during the Leafs' nosedive out of the playoffs last season and has displayed a willingness to lead. Prior to the Saturday season opener, Randy Carlyle named him one of the team's two alternate captains (with Clarke MacArthur) to Dion Phaneuf.
A five-year term for a player entering his 30's might carry some risk on a surface level, but with modern nutrition and training techniques along with the current exploits of Teemu Selanne (42), Ray Whitney (40), and Jaromir Jagr among others, those concerns seem to be minimal. The average salary of $5.25 million seems quite reasonable. While slightly younger and a different player than Lupul, Devils centre Travis Zajac recently inked an eight-year deal with an annual average of $5.75 million, while 36-year-old Coyotes captain Shane Doan signed for four years at a $5.3 million average this past summer.
Keeping Lupul in the fold moving forward would seem to signify similar intentions for Kessel – an unrestricted free agent following next season – although the two are not necessarily one and the same. Considering their success though, it would seem only logical to keep the pair together long-term.
Looking forward, the Leafs now have 14 players signed for next season with upwards of $17 million in cap space. Beyond that, only four players are locked in at the moment: Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski, John-Michael Liles and James van Riemsdyk.