Given the fact he has been injured a lot the past two years, the 2013-14 season certainly didn't kick off the way Joffrey Lupul
would have liked.
The veteran left winger, who emerged as one of the NHL's best scorers as well as a team leader with the Maple Leafs
since arriving in Toronto two years ago, began experiencing back spasms
the day before training camp and was unable to join his teammates for practice until Wednesday morning.
"It's feeling good; everything is fine," Lupul said. "This is obviously not the way I wanted to start camp, but I'm just happy everything is feeling better now. We're taking it slow. It's not the same way you'd treat an injury during the regular season, but it's good that way because time is on my side."
Lupul said he put in a lot of prep work the week before training camp was to begin and at times he felt his lower back starting to tighten up. You may recall Lupul had back surgery a few years ago on an injury that threatened to end his career prematurely.
"I had some tightness and made the decision to push on through it which probably wasn't the right idea the week before camp," Lupul admitted. "Now everything feels fine and there's still plenty of time before the opening of the season."
Lupul skated and did drills with teammates for the first hour of the hour and 45 minute session.
Lupul will unquestionably be counted on to be a key player on a team that hopes to get beyond the first round of the playoffs. The Maple Leafs lost a heartbreaking Game 7
in the opening round to the Stanley Cup finalist Boston Bruins last season, blowing a three-goal third period lead in the process.
Prior to arriving in Toronto, Lupul had a well-earned reputation for being a gifted yet underachieving individual who simply wasn't prepared to put in the commitment on and off the ice required to be an NHL star. In Toronto, though, he has done an about face and is now one of the team's top performers and spokesmen.
There were some concerns he would clash with new coach Randy Carlyle, who also had him during his less-than-committed days in Anaheim, but that has not been the case. The player that used to drive Carlyle to distraction is now one of his key leaders.
"I think it shows the maturity of him as a person and his recognition of where he is in his career," Carlyle said. "It's a tribute to him. I reflect back on my youth and some of the things I did when I was young -- and I'm sure there is a group here [among the reporters] that would like to take back a few decisions. I'm not saying he was off the wall, but there are things that you'd do differently."
Injuries have conspired
to limiting Lupul to just 82 of a possible 140 games the past two years, but when he is in the lineup, he has been shooting out the lights. Two seasons ago he seemed to be well on his way to becoming the NHL's first team all-star left winger when he went down with a separated shoulder
. He had 25 goals and 67 points in 66 games at the time. Last season he managed 11 goals and 18 points in 16 games. He broke his arm
after blocking teammate Dion Phaneuf's slap shot.
Would Carlyle like to see him alter his approach a bit given his fragile nature?
"I think there's probably some merit to that, but I wouldn't say it has to be toned down," Carlyle said. "He has to pick and choose a little bit more cautiously in some situations. I think what happened to him was he was frustrated with his injuries and then tried to come back and make an impact right away."
The maple Leafs have made some significant roster chances going into this season designed to make the a bigger threat to go deeper into the playoffs including adding goalie Jonathan Bernier
, veteran defenceman Paul Ranger as well as forwards David Clarkson, David Bolland and possibly Mason Raymond. That said, Lupul knows there is a lot of hockey to be played before the Leafs will find out of they can take the next step.
"Our goal is to be better than last year as individuals and as a team," Lupul said, but that's a long way away looking to the second round. It would probably be a mistake to think that way because right now you're looking at training camp and trying to get ready for Oct. 1. Then you start to set some goals as the season progresses.
"I'm sure everyone would like to fast forward to be in the first round of playoffs again, but the truth is it's a lot of work to get there and that is what our focus is on."
Bring it on
Coach Carlyle expects every single Maple Leaf to raise the level of his play at the team attempts to go deeper into the playoffs this year, but special attention will be paid to sniper Phil Kessel
who is in a contract year.
Carlyle does not want to put any more focus on Kessel than any of the other players, even if that is a certain reality.
"With every player that is in our camp, we're asking for more because we feel it's going to take more of an effort and more of what we do positively to have an effect that is on the right side of the ledger for our group," Carlyle said. "That goes for our highest level of players to our lower level players. I'm not casting anybody in one category or another, but we have to be better as a group."
Kessel led the Leafs in scoring and was eighth in the league with 20 goals and 52 points in 48 games. Throughout his career, however, he has been plagued with long scoring droughts that have prevented him from hitting the 40-goal plateau.
"We as a coaching staff have a template which we'd like our team to play to and it's all about team wins," Carlyle said. "If Phil Kessel goes 14 games without scoring a goal and we win every one of them, I don't think there's any room for criticism."
Fair enough, but if Kessel goes 14 games in a row without scoring and the Leafs go 7-7 in that span or worse, say 3-11, you can bet there will be an issue.
For all the talk about Kessel being a more responsible two-way player last year -- and the truth of the matter he is still very much a one-way entity -- he is paid to score goals. Others can fight and block shots and hound the opposition's top scorers in the defensive zone; the Leafs need goals from Kessel.
No ordinary Joe
Big centre Joe Colborne
continues to push for fulltime NHL employment and Wednesday at practice found himself skating on a line with James van Riemsdyk and David Bolland.
Colborne was a scorer while en route to professional hockey and made one day fill that role. To make the Maple leafs though, he may have to alter his game.
"If there was a model for Joe Colborne to follow I would say it is Jay McClemment," Carlyle said. "Find a way to be useful in different areas and make yourself expendable to the coaching staff. Do the things that are necessary to make a compliment to your team."
HBO in the house
HBO's 24/7 will feature the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings leading up to the big outdoor game New Year's Day and the TV crew was set up at MasterCard Centre in Toronto Wednesday to do a little taping.
One gets the feeling Carlyle would rather take a pass on the whole thing, but being the good company man he is, Carlyle said all the right things. Well, mostly.
Asked if his players might find the whole process a distraction, Carlyle chuckled.
"They're going to have to live like I live now," cracked Carlyle as he stood pinned against the wall by a hoard of local media. "Having you guys in my face all the time; they're going to have to get used to that. Obviously it's a challenge, but it is something we have committed to. We are a partner of the NHL and we're participating. We have to deal with it and move forward."
The players who watched previous incarnations of 24/7 seem to enjoy it.
"Some guys like it more than others," said Lupul. "You can have fun with it. People want to see the players' personality and how we prepare for games. I think the key is to just be yourself. I have watched the show in the past and it is entertaining. I expect it to be this year, too."
Goalie James Reimer agrees.
"I think the guys are excited. I think the guys enjoyed watching it and it offers a cool angle on the game," he said. "It's probably the most realistic look at the game. At the same time you don't know how much of a distraction it's going to be."
Carlyle said he did not speak with any of his coaching fraternity that have dealt with the constant scrutiny of having cameras go where they don't normally go. He added the footage that was shot Wednesday was preliminary stuff and the Leafs probably won't see HBO again until Dec. 1.
"It's branding and selling the game, not only to our market, but I guess you'd say to North America and it's available to anywhere in the world. That's the way we look at it. Because we are a partner we were asked to participate. The people who are in the position of making the decision wanted us to be there so you live with it."
Did you have any say?
"None!" Carlyle barked.
"What would you have said?
You get the picture.
- Orr in the water: Tough guy Colton Orr was on the ice doing drills along with fellow injured Leaf Troy Bodie before their teammates came on for practice. Orr has been out with a leg injury, but is expected to be back with the team Thursday or Friday. Bodie is out with an oblique strain.
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- Down you go: Thee Maple Leafs reduced their roster by two Wednesday morning demoting defenceman Jesse Blacker and right winger Tyler Biggs to the Marlies of the AHL.