Maple Leafs’ Joffrey Lupul seems at peace with probable end of career

Auston Matthews scored a goal and added an assist as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Anaheim Ducks.

Joffrey Lupul doesn’t sound like someone who is contemplating a comeback.

One of the first things he says while being introduced on the “Member Guest Podcast” is that he’s “a retired hockey player whose [golf] handicap is ballooning.”

The 34-year-old is not technically retired. Tuesday marks the two-year anniversary since his last game with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he still has a couple paycheques remaining in the final year of his contract with the NHL team.

Lupul disappeared from the Leafs after having sports hernia surgery in February 2016 and hasn’t been heard from much publicly since. He sounded upbeat during his appearance on the podcast hosted by PGA Tour player Brendan Steele and Linkin Park bassist Dave Farrell, but acknowledged having to come to grips with the fact he’s no longer able to do everything necessary to play hockey at its highest level.

“Everyone watches a three-hour game of hockey and they think that’s all you did that day, which is clearly not true,” said Lupul. “I even find now that I’m not playing, you have to – I tell myself sometimes – I’m like, ‘Ah, man, I miss certain things,’ but I’m thinking about like the best moments. I’m not thinking about getting multiple surgeries and breaking bones and like the bad parts, or the tough parts. Injuries and different things like that are all part of it.

“When I think about things like that, it’s easier to let go of the fact that your body is not in good shape and it’s probably not meant to play hockey anymore. But it’s very easy to just focus on the great moments … the playoff games or big goals and stuff like that. That’s one thing I find myself dealing with now that I’m not playing, and probably won’t be playing going forward.”

Lupul’s future intentions are unknown because of the mysterious way the Leafs have handled his situation. He was basically excommunicated from the organization after playing his 701st career game in Ottawa on Feb. 6, 2016 and aired some frustration on his Instagram account in September by suggesting the team had cheated by having him fail his medical.

He later apologized and deleted that remark while saying, “I hope one day to be able to get back on the ice.”

At least quasi-retirement has come with some perks. Lupul says he’s been splitting time between Newport Beach, Calif., and New York City, where he co-owns a new restaurant. He’s also had time to golf, play guitar, attend concerts and travel to a degree not possible while he was a full-time NHLer.

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“When you’ve dedicated your life to something – a professional sport or music – there’s a lot of things that you’ve had to sacrifice along the way, as far as not being able to do,” said Lupul. “I [couldn’t] go on a vacation with friends. It was like you finish a season, you take two weeks off and then I’m back in the gym doing everything, which was great. I loved it. I miss it.

“I miss some of that stuff, but there’s also some interesting things that you can do outside of there. That part of it’s really exciting.”

Golf has been a longtime passion, but even it’s felt the affects of his hockey career. Lupul spoke of learning the game as a young kid on the nine-hole layout at Fort Saskatchewan Golf and Curling Club and eventually getting his handicap down to an extremely respectable three or four.

Today, he plays closer to nine or 10.

“Unfortunately during my hockey career, I had surgery on my back twice and after that my handicap started to go up and up,” said Lupul. “It’s just got worse from there. But I still love getting out there, especially with some good friends at the club.”

The one thing you won’t find him doing these days is playing any hockey.

Lupul becomes a free agent on July 1 and could theoretically attempt a comeback for next season, but it doesn’t sound like that it’s in the cards. In the podcast episode taped before Christmas and released on Sunday, he sounded like a man who had moved on with his life.

“Put it this way: I haven’t skated in a solid year,” said Lupul. “I’ve played hockey probably 80 per cent of the days since I was 16 years old. We were playing 80 games a year, you practice, you get three days off a month, [but] otherwise you’ve got your skates on and you’re playing hockey. I think it’s pretty natural for any player once their career ends – and actually, I’m still, I’m injured this year, I’m still under contract, but I was not able to pass a physical and come back and play – but I think it’s pretty natural for someone to just kind of take some time off.

“But I could see maybe one day starting to miss it and joining a pick-up league or something and going out there and showing off.”

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