Lupul might fit loop­hole

Leafs could swing Ve­gas side deal to re­move for­got­ten winger’s con­tract from the books


While the Maple Leafs sur­prised many by in­clud­ing un­der­used for­ward Josh Leivo among the11­play­ers they were al­lowed to pro­tect, the wild card in this week’s Ve­gas Golden Knights ex­pan­sion draft as far as Toronto is con­cerned is Jof­frey Lupul.

He is, oddly enough, el­i­gi­ble for se­lec­tion, de­spite miss­ing the en­tire sea­son with an in­jury. All other NHL play­ers who missed the full sched­ule be­cause of in­jury — in­clud­ing the Leafs’ Stephane Ro­bidas and Nathan Hor­ton — are in­el­i­gi­ble.

“None of the draft ex­emp­tions were au­to­matic,” said NHL deputy com­mis­sioner Bill Daly. “Each were eval­u­ated on a case-by-case ba­sis. That in­cludes Lupul.”

So either Lupul be­lieves he is healthy enough to play or Leafs GM Lou Lamor­iello, the king of find­ing loop­holes in the NHL’s rules, has a deal with Ve­gas GM Ge­orge McPhee to take Lupul and his $5.25-mil­lion con­tract off Toronto’s books and stay away from a high-end prospect, such as Bren­dan Leip­sic or Kerby Ry­chel.

The Leafs also pro­tected for­wards Tyler Bozak, Con­nor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Ko­marov, Matt Martin and James van Riems­dyk, plus de­fence­men Mor­gan Rielly, Jake Gar­diner and Con­nor Car­rick, and goalie Fred­erik Andersen.

They are head­ing to­ward a salary-cap squeeze, though, with nearly $14 mil­lion in dead money. That in­cludes: bonuses paid to last year’s ex­cel­lent rook­ies, car­ried over to this sea­son; salary for those too in­jured to play or al­ready bought out; salaries re­tained in trades.

For Ve­gas — which has to pick one player from each team by 10 a.m. Wed­nes­day, with salaries to­talling at least $43.8 mil­lion (all dol­lar fig­ures U.S.) — tak­ing Lupul only makes sense if it comes with a sweet­ener, per­haps the Leafs’ first-round pick in this week’s draft.

Later Sun­day, the NHL an­nounced the salary cap will rise to $75 mil­lion.

The salary floor be­comes $55.4 mil­lion for the open­ing ros­ters of all teams, in­clud­ing Ve­gas.

McPhee is be­lieved to be col­lect­ing picks from other teams in ex­change for stay­ing away from se­lect­ing cer­tain play­ers.

This could fit that mould, and McPhee put out a state­ment in­di­cat­ing just that.

“Ve­gas has in­di­cated that they will give all 30 clubs ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to keep their ros­ters in­tact if they’d like,” said McPhee.

Lamor­iello de­clined in­ter­view re­quests. Lupul could not be reached and his for­mer agent de­clined cit­ing client con­fi­den­tial­ity.

As for Leivo, 24, it’s a boost of confidence know­ing he is in­deed a part of the team’s fu­ture.

He had been con­sid­ered the most likely to be ex­posed and lost. Leivo could barely make the lineup and seemed an af­ter­thought to coach Mike Bab­cock.

His skat­ing is sus­pect, he doesn’t kill penal­ties and lost his part-time job on the fourth line to Kasperi Ka­pa­nen at the end of the sea­son. But the 24-year-old racked up 10 points (two goals, eight as­sists) in 13 games and has nine goals in 41 games over four NHL sea­sons.

If there’s no deal for Ve­gas to take Lupul, then Leivo’s in­clu­sion means the Golden Knights are prob­a­bly go­ing to take a top prospect from a team flush with scor­ing for­wards. Leip­sic, Ry­chel and Seth Griffith are top can­di­dates con­sid­ered NHL ready.

Griffith played with the Leafs and Florida Panthers last sea­son, and led the Mar­lies in scor­ing in the play­offs with nine points in 11 games.

Ry­chel, a for­mer first-round pick of the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets, led the Mar­lies in scor­ing in the reg­u­lar sea­son with 52 points in 73 games. Leip­sic was right be­hind with 51 points de­spite play­ing just 49 games be­cause of a con­cus­sion.

The Leafs had hinted that the gritty, un­der­sized Leip­sic (five-foot-nine, 170 pounds) had been a can­di­date for pro­mo­tion if not for the in­jury.

NHL reg­u­lars Eric Fehr and Martin Mar­incin and goal­tend­ing prospects Gar­ret Sparks and An­toine Bibeau are also pos­si­bil­i­ties for the Golden Knights off the Leafs’ list.

Ve­gas now has an ex­clu­sive 72-hour win­dow to make deals with free agents, both re­stricted and un­re­stricted.

If they come to terms, then the free agent’s for­mer team won’t lose a player in the ex­pan­sion draft, the re­sults of which will be an­nounced dur­ing Wed­nes­day night’s NHL awards show in Sin City.

The rest of the NHL is un­der a ros­ter freeze un­til Ve­gas se­lects its team — but they can still talk. With the un­pro­tected list out, they can also try to use Ve­gas as a go-be­tween.

The Leafs, for ex­am­ple, are be­lieved to be in­ter­ested in Ana­heim de­fence­man Sami Vata­nen, with Brown’s name men­tioned as an op­tion in a pack­age for the 26-year-old blue­liner with a right-handed shot.

The Panthers, mean­while, were said to be look­ing at Ry­chel, given new coach Bob Bough­ner’s con­nec­tion with the winger and his dad War­ren go­ing back to their ju­nior days.

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