One Year Later, Lupul Looking Sharp
Joffrey Lupul didn’t think he would be able to play hockey again.
Sidelined for almost a year with complications from back surgeries and blood infections, a return didn’t look promising.
On December 5th, 2010, he made his return to the NHL. Today, exactly one year later, he is tied with Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin for third in the league in points (with 30), and part of arguably one of the best goal-scoring tandems in the league with teammate Phil Kessel.
His back issues started in training camp back in 2009. Back spasms kept him sidelined for four days, and then he began suffering from pain and numbness in his legs. Diagnosed with a herniated disk, he was scheduled to undergo a fairly routine procedure to fix the problem. On December 17th, 2009, doctors performed a microdiscectomy, a surgery in which a small portion of the bone is removed to relieve pressure on the nerve.
Recovery was supposed to take eight weeks. Unfortunately, Lupul was still in pain, and underwent a second microdiscectomy that same December, where doctors removed another small portion of the bone.
Lupul’s rehabilitation should have started then, but he still didn’t feel right. In February, blood work revealed an infection in the surgical area. For six weeks, Lupul was treated with antibiotics. After those six weeks, he resumed his physical therapy and workouts, looking forward to making his return to the Anaheim Ducks. But by late May, he began suffering from extreme back pain again. Further tests revealed that not only was the blood infection still there, but it had gotten even worse. He spent nearly all of two months in bed, being treated by three separate intravenous antibiotics.
About six months after the second operation, Lupul went to the rink to get an idea of his progress.
There was no joy in Anaheim that day. Lupul’s back spasms had returned.
“That was six months post-op," Lupul said, "and I was really beginning to wonder what was going on. You almost stop thinking about hockey and hope you don't have to live the rest of your life with back pain like this."
During this harrowing time in his life, Lupul went from a healthy 206 pounds to a scary 170 pounds.
Thankfully, Lupul’s health began to improve come August. He worked hard in physical therapy and workouts, pushing closer towards a return.
He made his season debut with the Ducks on December 5th, 2010, and went on to post 13 points in 26 games.
On February 9, 2011, the Ducks traded Lupul and Jake Gardiner to the Maple Leafs for Francois Beauchemin.
When the Maple Leafs were in Anaheim to take on the Ducks last week, Lupul told reporters, "In my conversation with [Ducks’ head coach] Randy [Carlyle], he said he didn’t think I had the skill to play left wing in this league."
The Ducks’ loss has been the Leafs’ huge gain. Lupul scored 18 points in 28 games upon arriving in Toronto toward the end of the 2010-2011 season.
So far this season, he has been an absolute phenom for the Leafs. He and his linemates, Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak, have combined for a total of 78 points in 26 games. On November 2nd, he scored his third career hat trick against Marty Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. It was one of his six multi-point games on the season. At this rate, Lupul is on pace to score 90+ goals this season, a very large jump from his career highest (26, with the Philadelphia Flyers).
Lupul has proven his worth as a powerful sniper for the Leafs, and while it isn’t likely that his current momentum will continue throughout the entire season, watching him shine these last two months has been amazing.
At the age of 26, Lupul was questioning whether or not he’d ever play hockey again. Now 28, he is one of the elite goal-scorers in the NHL, and the future looks bright.
Pretty incredible for a guy who, a little less than two years ago, thought his playing days were behind him.