Top Shelf: Lupul, Leafs catch the wrong kind of break

3:59 PM, Jan 24, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's been easy to pile on the Toronto Maple Leafs in recent years.

After all, the storied franchise is in the midst of the longest playoff drought in club history and mismanagement by Toronto's turbulent front office has had more than a little to do with that downturn.

After hearing the news of Joffrey Lupul's fractured forearm, however, it's hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for the Maple Leafs. While it's true many of Toronto's recent problems have been the result of poor decision making in the board room, what happened to Lupul and the Leafs on Wednesday night was just plain bad luck.

Less than a week after signing a five-year, $26.25 million extension with the Leafs, Lupul will be forced to miss a hefty chunk of the lockout-shortened season. Head coach Randy Carlyle's initial estimation on Thursday suggested Lupul will miss six weeks, a span that could amount to him sitting out nearly half of this year's 48-game regular season.

The injury happened midway through the second period of Wednesday's impressive 5-2 victory in Pittsburgh. While the Leafs were on the way to spoiling the Penguins' home opener, however, Lupul was hit by a slap shot from the stick of teammate Dion Phaneuf.

Lupul grabbed his arm in pain and immediately skated off the ice and disappeared into locker room. The hope now is that Lupul didn't take Toronto's playoff chances with him.

Even though he failed to register a point in his first three games of this season, as the team's top-line left wing the Leafs rely heavily on Lupul for offense. Last season, Lupul finished second on the team to Phil Kessel in points even though he missed 16 games due to injury.

Kessel had 82 points in 2011-12, Lupul finished with 67 and the next-best Toronto scorer was Mikhail Grabovski with 51. So, scoring depth was a major issue for this team before Lupul went down and his injury only magnifies the problem.

Of course, Lupul's absence will give other Toronto players a chance to step up and fill the scoring void, but it's no sure thing anybody on the current roster is up to the task.

The first option is James van Riemsdyk, the young power forward Toronto acquired in a trade with Philadelphia at last year's draft. Van Riemsdyk, a former second overall pick who was obtained for defenseman Luke Schenn, did break out with his first points of the season in a two-goal, one-assist performance on Wednesday, but that was only after Carlyle talked with JVR about his performance.

"It's always nice when you have a conversation with a player and he comes out and scores two goals and has a three-point night," Carlyle said. "It wasn't to criticize the player, he understood it. It's not like he's been terrible, it's just that he needed to step up his game."

With Lupul out for an extended period, Carlyle shouldn't need to have anymore of those conversations with van Riemsdyk. It should be evident that Toronto is counting on his best effort every night.

The injury also presents an opportunity for Nazem Kadri, the seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft who has recorded a point in his first three games of the season. Of course, a breakout year from the 22-year-old Ontario native would help Kessel and van Riemsdyk shoulder the offensive load.

We were warned how injuries could play a major role in this truncated season, but that was supposed to be due to the increased frequency of games, which could lead to more muscle pulls and less time to recover from the usual bumps and bruises.

Broken limbs, however, are not part of that equation, but the fact that this campaign is much shorter means those type of injuries can have an even bigger impact on a team's season.

Having Lupul go down for such a big portion of the season right out of the chute has to be a tough pill to swallow for Maple Leafs fans. They have watched their beloved team miss the playoffs for seven straight seasons and losing Lupul isn't a good omen the trend is about end.

They say sometimes all you need to get over the hump is a little bit of good luck. The Leafs probably needed more than a little luck to get back to the playoffs this season, but with Lupul out, they may need something closer to a miracle.

The Sports Network

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