Leafs, Lupul Go Hollywood

TORONTO (Sep. 23) — Let me begin this blog with a political disclaimer: Perhaps everything we learned about the Toronto Maple Leafs and Joffrey Lupul on Thursday was believable, above–board and trustworthy.

That nearly seven months after undergoing sports–hernia surgery, the veteran, injury–plagued forward still cannot skate without debilitating discomfort and must begin the 2016–17 National Hockey League season on Injured Reserve. And that, yes, once finally recovered, he will return to action and be traditionally compensated — earning his $5.25–million salary and remaining cap hit for the next two seasons. Got it?

Now, run to your nearest window and glance upward for a flock of pigs.

The a–political and highly–skeptical side of me; born of covering the Maple Leafs for nearly two decades as a radio reporter and growing familiar with “Loophole” Lou Lamoriello, suggests that none of this is kosher. Instead, we have an awkwardly–choreographed hoax between a player determined (minimally) to receive his full NHL stipend and a team hell–bent on recovering some cap maneuverability. Such speculation has been “in the air” since Lupul incurred “middle–body” malaise last February and had the delicate region repaired. Evidently, it was the final straw for Lamoriello, the Leafs’ rule–bending GM, who determined (almost surely in cahoots with Mike Babcock) that Lupul would not again wear a blue–and–white Toronto jersey.

Certainly not in the NHL. His roster spot is now for the younger, cheaper and sturdier.

Lupul conveniently “failed” his training camp physical on Thursday and was put on I.R.

Lamoriello kept a straight face in a room–full of reporters: “[Lupul] got on the ice and had the same discomfort. We brought him (from his off–season home in California); he saw our doctors; they went through the physical and they both felt he wouldn’t be able to play. He’s very disappointed. He worked very hard at it in the summer.” Simultaneously, a statement from Lupul was released through the club: “It is with deep regret I am unable to attend training camp and start the season with the Leafs due to injury. I pledge to work hard with a view to return to playing this season. Hockey is the only life I have known. This is an extremely emotional time for me. Accordingly, I will not be making any further comment at this time.”

I’ll assume that team and player composed the aforementioned without giggling.

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JOFFREY LUPUL IS ALLEGEDLY STILL RECOVERING FROM A FEBRUARY SPORTS–HERNIA OPERATION.

Professional athletes aren’t often paid “quiet money”. But, this is an exception. The Leafs have told Lupul, “go away; shut up and play along while we figure out whether to put you on waivers or Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR). Be a good boy and we’ll cough up your full salary (while perusing cap circumvention). And, make bloody–well sure not to ‘recover’ physically.” Lupul, recognizing that $10.5 million is coming from nowhere else on the NHL map, agreed to disappear. For the time being.

Had this not been so utterly predictable, maybe the “suddenness” of Thursday’s joint–announcement would resonate more credibly. In my view, however, Lupul becomes a convenient fall guy. Perhaps he truly is not fully prepared to resume playing in the NHL, even while establishing an all–time medical record for longest recovery from a sports–hernia procedure (teammates and friends were seen rolling their eyes on Thursday).

Unless, however, the doctor cut the wrong cord (which, given the area of Lupul’s body, would be tragic), he should rehabilitate well before the 2017–18 season (and his unwieldy contract) expires. Like sometime in the next three weeks. Which could make the ensuing 21 months rather excruciating for an honest performer bedeviled by a variety of ailments. It may be fascinating to watch how this circumstance plays out.

U.S. EMBARRASSMENT ENDS

Neither the United States hockey program nor veteran coach John Tortorella will cherish memory of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. A humiliating week for the Americans ended with a 4–3 loss to the Czech Republic on Thursday night at Air Canada Centre. Without a victory in three starts, the U.S. will happily welcome a return to the conventional format for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea — providing, of course, the NHL participates. It will enable such young skaters as Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and Johnny Gaudreau to wear U.S. colors rather than vying on behalf of Team North America, as in this quirky (but much–entertaining) event. I was at the round–robin finale between the U.S. and Czechs:

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DEREK STEPAN AND MARTIN HANZAL LOCK STICKS IN THE OPENING FACE–OFF.

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THE WORLD CUP WILL NOT RANK HIGHLY ON JOHN TORTORELLA’S COACHING RESUME.

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CZECH GOALIE PETR MRAZEK (DETROIT NHL) WAS PENALIZED FOR HIGH–STICKING AND ROUGHING IN THE FIRST PERIOD, WHICH MAY BE A FIRST… PERIOD. HIS TEAMMATES (BELOW) SCORED ENOUGH GOALS ON BEN BISHOP (TAMPA BAY) TO MAINTAIN A LEAD MOST OF THE NIGHT.

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MY VIEW FROM SEC. 309, ROW 15 OF THE NORTH–SIDE PURPLE SEATS.

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SIGNS, SIGNS… EVERYWHERE SIGNS.

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THE AMERICANS PRESSED FOR THE TYING GOAL LATE IN THE THIRD PERIOD, BUT ZACH PARISE (MINNESOTA NHL) AND CO. COULD NOT FOOL MRAZEK.

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THE WORLD CUP ENDED RATHER INELEGANTLY FOR DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN (WINNIPEG NHL).

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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