Another week, another body on the verge of return.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Toronto Maple Leafs had four or five regulars on injured reserve, but with Game 27 set for Tuesday in Winnipeg, they’re down to just one: Joffrey Lupul.
Lupul, whose forearm was broken by a Dion Phaneuf point shot about seven weeks ago, was on the ice with his teammates for the first time for part of Monday’s lengthy practice.
He wouldn’t put a timetable on when he’ll be back in the lineup – the original one was six to eight weeks and coach Randy Carlyle said he hasn’t been cleared for contact – but it’s clear that it’s now a matter of days, not weeks.
“I’m not sure; it’s day-to-day right now,” Lupul said of when he’ll play. “I’m at seven weeks right now so you don’t just jump back in the lineup in one day. Everything felt good; we’ll see how it reacts tomorrow.”
The Leafs may even take Lupul to Winnipeg to practice with the team in advance of the game, but realistically he likely won’t play until next week, potentially on Wednesday against Tampa Bay.
The main reason is he needs to build back the strength in the arm, which was in a cast for a month and would be at risk of a re-break if he returns too soon.
“We don’t want to rush anything,” Lupul said. “We want to make sure it’s 100 per cent, and it’s not going to bother me the rest of the year.”
Where Lupul will slot into the lineup will be interesting. He appeared to be skating a little with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin – a duo that could use a more offensive look after filling a checking role all year – which would mean Jay McClement returns to the fourth line.
The Leafs are once again at the 23-man roster limit, however, meaning someone would have to be demoted, traded or waived in order to activate Lupul.
Assuming it’s one of the team’s eight defencemen than goes, here’s how the Leafs lineup could potentially shake out once he returns:
JVR – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Grabovski – Kulemin
MacArthur – Kadri – Frattin
McLaren/Orr – McClement – Komarov
The easiest way to open a spot for Lupul would be to send Korbinian Holzer down, as he is one of the few Leafs that doesn’t require waivers to be demoted. He has also struggled through a few recent games and doesn’t appear ready for the role Carlyle has thrust him into on the top pair.
But the Leafs roster situation is complicated by the fact they have both John-Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek in the press box every game, eating up two of the three extra roster spots.
It’s expected at least one of them will play in the near future, however.
“I don’t think they can do anything more than what they’re doing,” Carlyle said of Liles and Komisarek. “The question becomes whether we as a coaching staff feel somebody has played poorly or doesn’t deserve to stay in the lineup. We felt other players were outplaying them.
“They’ve been nothing short of great teammates and true professionals. It’s tough. It’s not an easy one.”
The tougher call likely comes if Toronto wants to bring Jake Gardiner up from the minors, as they would then need yet another roster spot for the rest of the season to make that work. Gardiner will require waivers after he plays only three more NHL games, meaning his next recall is basically a permanent one.
Barring another injury taking someone else out of the lineup – the Leafs blueliners and/or centres may be due for one given they have been remarkably healthy so far – that may leave GM Dave Nonis looking to make a similar trade to the one that send Mike Brown to Edmonton for a draft pick last week.