TORONTO – Given his history, Joffrey Lupul had some concerns when he began to experience tightness in the lower back just days before training camp was due to begin.
"But I felt great all summer," said Lupul. "I said that to the training camp staff, I haven't had any issues. I was training, skating, golfing – which is hard on your back – so it hasn't been something that's been bothering me all summer. It just came one day."
Sidelined with back spasms for the first six days of camp, Lupul joined his teammates at practice for the first time on Wednesday morning. As was the plan, the 29-year-old participated in the first of two practice sessions, looking and feeling like his old self.
"Everything's fine," he explained after about an hour on the ice. "Obviously not the way I wanted to start the camp, but just happy everything's feeling better now."
"He's moving much better, felt much better," observed Leafs coach Randy Carlyle following the practice. "We think he's an option for us in the next couple exhibition games."
Entering his fourth season with the Leafs, Lupul first sensed tightness in the back during the final week of informal workouts – working extensively with skating coach Barb Underhill – but rather than exercise caution, he decided to push through it, "which probably wasn't the right idea the week before camp" as the tightness worsened into "pretty painful" spasms.
Held to just 16 games in 2013 because of injuries – broken right forearm and concussion – Lupul had his first serious bout with the back in the fall of 2009 when he required multiple surgeries while still with the Anaheim Ducks. Given that scary history – which included a debilitating infection from surgery – and the relative unimportance of exhibition play for a player of his status, he and the team opted for patience and precaution.
"I obviously have some history there and some issues with the low back," he said, "but I believe since I had surgery, this would be the first time I've ever missed time with it. These aren't regular season games. I would probably be handling this different if we were playing regular season games."
Lupul didn't believe the injury would linger into the regular season and expects to be ready for October 1st.
"At this stage in the season," he continued, "you take things slow and make sure you're feeling good for October 1st. That's our plan right now."