Sports Hockey

SIMMONS

Joffrey Lupul situation with Maple Leafs doesn't pass smell test

By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

Forward Joffrey Lupul seems to be unwanted by Maple Leafs management, who announced he failed his physical when training camp opened on Thursday. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/Files)

Forward Joffrey Lupul seems to be unwanted by Maple Leafs management, who announced he failed his physical when training camp opened on Thursday. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/Files)

Last February, after having something whispered in my ear, I wrote that Joffrey Lupul had played his last game for the Maple Leafs.

Nobody told me I was wrong at the time. Nor has anyone from the Leafs ever indicated otherwise.

Since that time, I’ve had two conversations of some length with Lupul. In both of them, he let me know he had heard the same thing about the Leafs. That somehow Lou Lamoriello didn’t want him around anymore and the Leafs would find a way to “Robidas” him, the new Leafs term for making a player disappear.

Still, he was planning to thwart their plans.

He told me then that it was his intention to continue his NHL career, to train as though he would be playing this season and to report to training camp with the intention of making the team.

“I still want to play hockey,” he said. “I still think I’m a hockey player.”

All the while knowing the odds were stacked against him.

In the week before the Leafs opened camp, two hockey men closely associated with Lupul’s career, told me that he was having difficulty dealing with not being wanted. Neither indicated he was physically unable to play.

So here’s what I wonder now, not necessarily buying the Leafs version of events on Lupul failing the physical exam: If he is healthy enough to play, why not go the Players’ Association and challenge the Leafs position on this? And if he isn’t healthy enough to play, why hide and skip the Leafs golf tournament and avoid interviews?

All this doesn’t pass the smell test and likely it’s not the last we’ll hear of it.

THIS AND THAT

I asked a number of hockey people to tell me who Auston Matthews reminded them of this week: The answers ranged from Peter Forsberg to Darryl Sittler to Bryan Trottier. The comparisons, interestingly enough, were all to Hall of Fame players. Whatever I expected from Matthews at the World Cup, he delivered more ...The World Cup sourpuss award goes to Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, who didn’t much care for being relegated to also-ran status on Team North America and didn’t seem to be one of those check-your-ego-at-the-door kind of kids ... Drew Doughty makes $8 million a year ,but I’m willing to pitch in a few bucks to buy him a new tooth ... I knew Johnny Gaudreau was great. I didn’t know he was this great ... What Connor McDavid will discover over time: Full speed is wonderful, especially when you have his speed. But slowing down occasionally can be effective too. He’s dangerous now. When he learns to stop and go, and shoot just a touch better, as he grows stronger, he’s going to be unstoppable.

HEAR AND THERE

There’s Bob Cole. And there’s Danny Gallivan. And then there’s the rest of those who call hockey games. And please don’t tell me Foster Hewitt. He was the first famous hockey announcer, the pioneer of the craft. When you listen now, you realize he was nowhere close to Chris Cuthbert, Doc Emrick, Jim Hughson or Gord Miller ... It has been a good week to buy World Cup hockey tickets on StubHub for games that didn’t include Canada. Tickets could have been had for less than $25 a seat ... The three most dangerous Leafs at the World Cup: 1. Matthews; 2. Morgan Rielly; 3. The surprising Milan Michalek ... The sure thing veterans to make the Leafs up front: Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Michalek, Matt Martin, Leo Komarov. Then it gets interesting to see where Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nikita Soshnikov, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown fit in ... I always knew John Tavares could play. I didn’t know his game was as well-rounded as its shown in the World Cup ... On the flip side, Steven Stamkos. Leaf fans would be in panic mode by now if he had signed in Toronto ... One more pleasant surprise for Team Canada, and the word pleasant doesn’t always fit with Brad Marchand, but in this case, it does.

SCENE AND HEARD

There has never been a better Team Canada defence than the one that played for Scotty Bowman in the 1976 Canada Cup. The blueline had Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin, Serge Savard, Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe to start and either Carol Vadnais or Jimmy Watson as a sixth defenceman ... Lookalikes: Komarov and Ray Donovan’s brother, Terry, actor Eddie Marsan ... I wonder if the people of Ottawa have watched Erik Karlsson in the World Cup. There may be softer players in the tournament, but I haven’t seen one of Karlsson’s level who wasn’t wearing American colours ... Whenever American hockey puts together a team for a major event, it needs to include Ron Wilson in some capacity. Wilson coached Team USA to a shocking victory at the World Cup in 1996 and was the bench boss in Vancouver 2010 in which Team USA beat Team Canada in the round-robin then lost gold in overtime when Sidney Crosby scored. Say what you want about Wilson — and there’s lots to say — but he had an inate understanding about these events that current coaches and managers do not ... This gem comes courtesy of Dave Stubbs of nhl.com and is oh so Canadian. What was Sittler doing during the final game of the famed ’72 Summit Series? He was babysitting Paul Henderson’s kids ... Russia hasn’t had a truly great world-class defenceman since Sergei Zubov.

AND ANOTHER THING

Sad summer for the NBA with the retirements of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. Not so sad for the bank accounts. Those three players had a combined career earnings of $890 million. And if you add Chris Bosh to that list — he seems to be fighting the inevitable — that’s four terrific players gone ... Great moments on television: Ron MacLean, who truly dislikes NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, interviewing Bettman, who truly dislikes, Hockey Night In Canada’s MacLean ... The worst thing about the World Cup from a press-box fridge point of view: It’s sponsored by Pepsi. A quick confession: I hate Diet Pepsi ... The baseball insider, Ken Rosenthal, has John Gibbons on the hot seat as the Blue Jays’ season winds down. The thinking from the outside has Eric Wedge being the leading candidate to replace Gibbons, if he is replaced. But what I’m hearing lately, if the Jays make a change — and I wouldn’t — the next manager would likely be Bud Black ... Leafs have 79 players at training camp, which is at least 40 more than you really need. NHL teams would be wise to do the baseball thing and divide their camps into major and minor leaguers and move players up and down when necessary ... A sad Leafs reminder from this World Cup. Brian Burke traded Anton Stralman to Calgary for Wayne Primeau and John Ferguson dealt Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft. Primeau and Raycroft are long gone from the NHL ... A question around the World Cup that won’t go away: How long before assistant GM Kyle Dubas leaves the Maple Leafs? The thinking in hockey circles is Dubas has been pushed to the corner by current Leafs management ... If I’m running the Las Vegas NHL franchise, I want Ralph Krueger as my coach. Who would be better to put an expansion team together and with his kind of perspective ... Get ready for all the Rougned Odor-Jose Bautista talk should it end up with Texas playing the Blue Jays in the AL Divisional Series ... I can see a Boston-Toronto AL Championship Series. Honest, I can ... Jays have two scouts and maybe more following the Detroit TIgers through the final week of the ball season ... Happy birthday to Bo Schultz (31), Bob McAdoo (65), Barbara Walters (87), Scottie Pippen (51), Chauncey Billups (40) and Stephanie McMahon (40) ... And hey, whatever became of John LeClair?

KABERLE AN OVERLOOKED LEAF

Lost in the noise of the World Cup of Hockey, Tomas Kaberle announced his retirement the other day, after parts of 18 seasons playing in three different leagues on eight different teams, the majority of the time spent with the Maple Leafs.

And until you look it up, you don’t realize exactly where Kaberle fits in amongst all-time Leafs. He played more games in blue and white than Darryl Sittler or Bob Baun. He set up more goals than all-time games leader, George Armstrong, and the legendary captain before that, Ted Kennedy managed. The only Leafs in history with more assists than Kaberle: Borje Salming, Mats Sundin, Sittler, Dave Keon, all of them members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

And he pretended he couldn’t speak English longer than any Toronto athlete in recent memory, which kept him out of the spotlight. Kaberle was never a great NHL defenceman — but he was a good one — with offensive gifts and supreme vision. His name will not go in rafters or be honoured, but that shouldn’t in any way minimize the contributions he made.

JAYS’ 2017 ROTATION LOOKS AMAZING

The way Francisco Liriano has pitched in September — his earned run average is 2.66, but drops to 1.96 for his three starts — it looks as though the Blue Jays starting rotation is set for next season.

Barring a trade or an unlikely free-agent signing, the Jays starting staff should be the deepest in the American League beginning with Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ and then Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada and then the lefthander, Liriano.

Almost all of whom are capable of being top-of-the-rotation pitchers.

At the same time, the thinking is that the Jays would like to tinker with the idea of Joe Biagini working as a starting pitcher, which would give them either more depth or a possible trade chip if needed.

It’s clear R.A. Dickey’s four seasons in Toronto will end when this Blue Jays season ends and that actually strengthens the Jays in two different ways. One, the rotation gets a pitcher more dependable than Dickey. Two, the Jays don’t have to keep catcher Josh Thole on the roster, solely to catch the knuckleballer.

Without Dickey, the Jays could have a real backup catcher and a spot on the bench with more value than Thole can contribute.

The area that will need to be addressed in the off-season is the bullpen. Brett Cecil and Joaquin Benoit are free agents and Jason Grilli has one year left, but it’ll be hard to depend on a 40-year-old as a set up man.

The other piece of good news: Roberto Osuna is under Jays control for four more years.

KESSEL SHOULD HAVE SPOKE UP MUCH EARLIER

If Phil Kessel wanted to complain about being left off Team USA, the time to do it was a) When he wasn’t named to the original 13 players; b) When he wasn’t named to the roster; c) When he wasn’t named to replace the injured Ryan Callahan.

Three shots at it and Kessel was typically silent. I agree with John Tortorella on this one. The post-elimination tweet by Kessel was small and will only further separate him from his American hockey-playing brethren. There was already separation between Kessel and some of his teammates post-Sochi, where an NHL coach told me that Kessel was highly unpopular in leading Team USA in scoring at the 2014 Olympics.

But to take a shot now was ill-timed on Kessel’s behalf. He should have challenged GM Dean Lombardi the day he was left off and he should have challenged him again — even knowing he wasn’t healthy enough the play — after winning the Stanley Cup and almost winning the Conn Smythe Trophy

For some reason, USA Hockey seems to have these festering sores more often than not, whether it is broken dorm rooms or GM quietly pointing finger at coach as was the case with Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma at the most recent Olympics. The concept of losing gracefully seems to have escaped many of those involved with USA Hockey.