The Toronto Maple Leafs made sure that Joffrey Lupul will not hit the free-agent market this summer by signing him to a new five-year, $26.25 million contract extension on Sunday, according to TSN's Darren Dreger.
5 year ext for Lupul. $5.25 average salary. Ltd no-trade. Leafs can request list of 14 teams. #TSN— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 20, 2013
Working on year to year for Lupul. Sounds like he will get more up front, but the average is $5.25 over 5 yrs. #TSN— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 20, 2013
As the team's first-line left winger with lots of talent and experience, it's not surprising that the Leafs chose to re-sign Lupul now.
Let's examine the pros and cons of the Leafs' latest signing.
Pro: Top-Line Talent
Before he suffered a shoulder injury on March 6 of last season, Lupul was on pace to lead the Leafs in scoring.
He finished the year with 67 points in 66 games and was one of two Toronto forwards to perform at a point-per-game level (Phil Kessel was the other).
Speaking of Kessel, he and Lupul have built some strong chemistry together on the team's first line, and since the Leafs don't have a legitimate No. 1 center for these star wingers, Lupul's playmaking is an important part of the offense.
After Lupul was lost for the year, Kessel scored just four goals in the final 16 games of the 2011-12 season.
When Lupul plays a full season, he's a near lock for 50-plus points, and since he's playing alongside an elite goal scorer in Kessel, the 29-year-old forward should be a very productive offensive player for the remainder of his Leafs career if he stays in the lineup on a consistent basis.
The Leafs have not been able to sign any superstar free agents over the last few years, so it was important that new general manager Dave Nonis re-signed Lupul because replacing him in the summer might have been a real challenge.
Con: Lupul is Injury Prone
The only real concern about this contract is if Lupul will be able to play five full seasons and avoid missing games because of injuries, which is something he has failed to do throughout his career.
Here's a look at the amount of regular-season games that he's missed in his NHL career.
|Total||131 (16.37 avg.)|
An average salary of $5.25 million isn't a huge amount to pay a top-line player, but when that player has proven to be injury prone his entire career, there is certainly a lot of risk involved.
Hopefully for Lupul and the Leafs, he can play in as many games as possible for the duration of his new contract because he's an exciting player to watch when healthy.
Five years is a long time for a player who has struggled with injuries and has had multiple surgeries in his career, but if he is able to play consistently, this contract will be a steal for the Leafs.
A three-year deal would have been ideal for the Leafs, but it's unlikely that Lupul would have accepted that kind of term when he probably could have gotten a five-year offer as an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in the summer.
Pro: Leafs Didn't Overpay
Lupul is a top-line caliber winger who has proven that he's capable of being productive offensively in a high-pressure hockey market like Toronto, so agreeing to a $5.25 million average salary was a huge win for the Leafs.
Many first-line players earn salaries of $5.5-8 million these days, but credit the Leafs for not overpaying to keep Lupul in Toronto long term.
The Leafs have managed the salary cap brilliantly over the last few years, and their long-term cap flexibility has not been hurt after this Lupul deal. They still have about $17 million in cap space for the 2013-14 season with Lupul re-signed.
Here are some players with similar contracts to Lupul, via Capgeek.
|Player||Team||Years Left (including 2012-13)||Salary Cap Hit|
|David Krejci||BOS||3||$5.25 million|
|Shane Doan||PHX||4||$5.3 million|
|Martin Havlat||SJS||3||$5 million|
|Evander Kane||WPG||6||$5.25 million|
|Ales Hemsky||EDM||2||$5 million|
Lupul was paid a fair amount when you consider his value to the Leafs, his ability to produce like a top-line winger and what other forwards around the league have been paid in recent seasons.
Con: Leafs Should Have re-Signed Lupul Toward the End of the Year
Nonis did well with this signing, but it would have been wiser to wait until the end of the year to re-sign Lupul because then the Leafs would have been able to see how durable he is after his most recent surgery.
By waiting longer to re-sign Lupul, the Leafs would have increased their risk of possibly losing him in free agency, but at least management would have had a better idea of what kind of durability to expect from him moving forward.
If Lupul is able to play a full 48-game season in a grueling, shortened schedule, Leafs fans will feel a lot better about his new contract.
Pro: Great Locker Room Guys Are Important
Veteran players who play at a high level and provide leadership on the ice and in the locker room are extremely important, especially to a young team with little playoff experience such as the Leafs.
Lupul is one of three alternate captains on the Leafs this season, and not only is he one of the team's finest leaders, he also handles the media well, which is an important skill in Toronto.
The Leafs might actually benefit from taking the "C" away from defenseman Dion Phaneuf and giving it to Lupul.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.