Were it not for his seldom dormant Twitter account, Joffrey Lupul could be mistaken for the loneliest hockey player on the planet.
He hasn’t played in a game since Dec. 8, 2009. His well-documented rehab from back surgery, and the mysterious infection that followed, could end up keeping him off the ice for a full year. The bad news is that Lupul is still taking antibiotic medications and will be until the end of the season; more pertinently, there’s still no timetable for his return.
The good news is, Lupul feels ready to go.
“There’s not much more I can test myself out in practice. I’m going full out in practice and I feel good,” Lupul said. “The next step is to play in a game and see where I’m at there. it’s going to take a couple games to get back to 100 percent. I’m ready for that. I know that’s probably how it’s going to be.”
Aside from the question of when, there’s the question of where his next game will take place. Will it be in a Ducks uniform or that of the Syracuse Crunch in a rehabilitation assignment?
“I think that that’s a possibility,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said, “but … to some people, (if) you’re a 10-year veteran is that something you want to do? They have to agree to it.
“Loops has spent a lot of time in the gym, a lot of time with doctors, it’s been a very long process. We want to make sure we take every step possible in the right direction. We don’t want to push anything. It doesn’t make any sense to play three (games) in three nights in the minors, ride a bus, coming off a back injury. There’s always that side of it, too.”
At this point, Lupul said, “I just want to play anywhere right now.”
The 27-year-old has been taking part in contact drills for about two weeks by his own estimate. Lately he’s been lining up in practice on either the first or second line. On Wednesday, he skated with both lines, moving to the second unit when Teemu Selanne’s sore groin told him to shut it down about 20 minutes into the skate.
If Lupul does play his next game in a Ducks uniform, his only hope is that it will be on a scoring line.
“I don’t see much use in bringing myself back and playing eight minutes a game for a couple games. That’s not my role on the team – or it wasn’t before I got hurt,” he said. “I’d like to be in a position where when I come back, and start playing, I’m at that role where Randy doesn’t have to worry about how much can I play? – ‘can he do this, can he do that?’ – I want to be in a spot where I can be trusted to do whatever job he asks me to do.”
Lupul, who scored 10 goals in only 23 games last season prior to the injury, could be an integral solution to the third scoring line the Ducks have sought since the beginning of the season. Aside from the team’s regular top six forwards (Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Jason Blake), the Ducks have a total of three goals from the rest of their forwards. It’s not a stretch to infer the first thing Carlyle will ask Lupul to do is score.
Lupul believes he can lift the team in still another way. Having been relegated to rehabbing on his own -not traveling with the team, sitting in on video sessions, or enjoying the day-to-day fraternizing that comes with being part of a team -he admitted Wednesday that “you lose touch with the team.”
“It gets frustrating after a while,” he said. “It’s nice to at least be out here at practice, able to interact with the guys, and hopefully when I do come back it gives them a little boost – emotionally too because they see how long I’ve been out.”