Maple Leafs' Joffrey Lupul back on ice

Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul is taking it slow as he hit the ice on Wednesday at MasterCard Centre....

Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul is taking it slow as he hit the ice on Wednesday at MasterCard Centre. Lupul has missed much of training camp with back spasms. (Jack Boland/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:14 AM ET

TORONTO - Randy Carlyle would rather not build up Joffrey Lupul’s importance to the Maple Leafs compared to other top-six forwards.

But with a points-per-game average of .915 since joining Toronto (perennial leading scorer Phil Kessel checks in with .902), Lupul leaves a huge hole in the lineup when he’s absent.

Unfortunately, that has happened a lot since late in the 2011-12 season when Lupul went down and the Maple Leafs fell out of the playoff race. In the shortened 2013 campaign, he managed 24 points in as many games, including the playoffs.

His goal of completing close to a full schedule this year hit a bump a few days before camp when lower back spasms flared up, a red flag for a player with his track record of trouble in that region.

But a week into Camp Carlyle, Lupul was back on the ice, though it was pre-determined he wasn’t recovered enough to endure one of the coach’s dreaded marathon skates.

“Obviously, not the way I wanted to start, but I’m just happy everything’s feeling better now,” Lupul said Wednesday.

“We’re taking it slow. It’s obviously not the same way you’d probably treat an injury in the regular season. It’s good that way. I guess time’s on my side.”

Lupul’s back surgeries and a related infection while with the Anaheim Ducks nearly ended his NHL career. That experience and the trade to Toronto gave him new determination to make as much of his remaining NHL days count. That led to 67 points in 66 games his first full year as a Leaf before a series of upper-body injuries struck, including a broken forearm in Toronto’s fourth game last season.

Then came this latest reversal.

“I was skating the day before camp and I was working quite a bit with Barb (Underhill, the club’s skating instructor) that week. I just had some tightness in there and it ended up going into spasm, which is a pretty painful thing for a couple days.

“I kind of just made the decision to push on through it, which probably wasn’t the right idea. It was a bit of a concern just because I have some history with the lower back.

“(The week off) is just making sure that everything’s 100%. This isn’t the time to really push through an injury and we’re not treating it like we would if it was the regular season or playoffs. We’re being a lot more cautious. There’s still plenty of time until opening day (Oct. 1), so I’m feeling confident.”

Carlyle was certainly relieved on Wednesday to see the left winger, whom he played in his old No. 1 line spot with Kessel and Tyler Bozak, re-assigning James van Riemsdyk for that part of the practice.

“All indications from when he spent the hour with us is that, hopefully, the spasm issues are behind him,” Carlyle said. “He looked much better, felt much better and he’s an option in our next couple of exhibition games.”

That’s likely going to be one of the home-and-homes with the Buffalo Sabres on the weekend, following the Leafs’ Thursday’s trip to Ottawa.

“It’s exhibition,” reminded Lupul of pressing too hard, too quickly. “I feel like doing the Allen Iverson (practice) rant. It’s a pre-season game, so you’re certainly going to take things slow.”

Carlyle was asked if Lupul’s all-out style can leave him at risk for injury.

“There is probably some merit to that, but I wouldn’t say it has to be toned down. He has to pick and choose a little bit more cautiously in some situations. What happened with him more than anything is that he was frustrated with his injuries and tried to come back and make an impact right away.”

Yet Carlyle prefers the committed, fire-breathing Lupul of the present day to a few years ago when part of him embraced the life of a young athlete in Southern California.

“I look at it and reflect back on my youth and some of the things I did when I was younger,” Carlyle said with a grin. “I’m sure there’s a group (of media) here that would like to take some of those decisions back. I’m not saying he was off-the-wall, but there are some things you do differently.

“That’s shown the maturity of him as a person, his recognition of where he’s at in his career. It’s a tribute to him.”

REPORT: LEAFS OFFER FRANSON $3M

The Maple Leafs have three exhibition games in the next four nights, during which the Cody Franson contract impasse might break.

Either the Leafs keep using newcomers such as Paul Ranger and Morgan Rielly on defence to show the Franson camp they’re prepared to start the regular season without him, or some give-and-take finally results in the two-year deal Toronto hopes he’ll ink.

At this stage, the Leafs appear determined to side-step the restricted free agent’s wish for a one-year deal, as management is wary of having too many defencemen up for renegotiation in the summer of 2014.

TSN reports the Leafs are willing to offer Franson in the neighbourhood of $3 million US a year, which projects them to go slightly over the $64.3 million cap this season. But the team was already talking about moving some one-way contract money to the Marlies, even before their other RFA, centre Nazem Kadri, came back to the fold.

A week into training camp, Franson has been working out with the Ryerson University Rams at Mattamy Athletic Centre, site of old Maple Leaf Gardens.


Videos

Photos