David Clarkson after ten games

David Clarkson hasn’t necessarily been under attack, but we can say that people are beginning to question the things Clarkson can do on the ice. I don’t necessarily think he’s been all that bad in his first few games as a Leaf. He’s leading the team in most puck-possession categories, has had a few scoring chances and unfortunately finds himself goal-less in mid-November, something that could have been impossible to forecast back in July when he signed his long contract.

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Clarkson now has 10 games under his belt, and he has just three assists in those games. A 10-game goal-less slump doesn’t particularly bother me. Players slump, they don’t get the bounces, whatever, but what does have me worried is that Clarkson is just shooting at 2.0 shots per game. He’s a high-volume, low-percentage shooter who was 43rd in shots per game among forwards between 2010 and the end of the shortened 2013 campaign. So what’s happened?

I think it’s fair to sweat the shots on goal with Clarkson because that’s his big talent. In my post attempting to forecast Clarkson’s performance, written before he signed in Toronto, I isolated “size and shots per game rate” as the key distinction that Clarkson had over other goal scorers. Among the 79 players with at least 2.5 shots on goal per game over the three seasons before this one, Clarkson was 63rd in shooting percentage. Essentially, he needs quantity to be able to produce.

The problem is not just because Clarkson’s not getting time on the powerplay:

  Shots Minutes Shots/60
2011 173 965.3 10.8
2012 177 1,025.5 10.4
2013 125 632.3 11.9
2014 17 146.3 7.0

Data via Hockey Analysis

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A point about data… data isn’t something to use to mould to fit your own theories. When there are big year-to-year changes in data, there’s something that’s worth questioning. Clarkson is about 12 total shots at 5-on-5 behind his rate of last season, so it’s not like this is a problem with sampling, where a small addition to a number makes a big difference. No, this has something to do with either Clarkson’s play or the Leafs’ play.

However… this isn’t the first time that Clarkson has played a 10-game stretch over the last three seasons generating just 2.0 shots per game. Here’s a graph of Clarkson’s 10-game rolling average in that department:

The most notable dip comes around the Game 125 mark. After a run of ten games with just 21 shots on goal, Clarkson exploded in the next ten for 30 shots. He also had six goals during that span. Basically, while shot indicators are pretty good and fairly repeatable, they too are subject from unfair conclusions generated from a small amount of data.

I’m not sure that Clarkson is going to be able to keep up that shots per game rate of the last two seasons, in part because of his age, and in part because he no longer gets to play with players that are very good at controlling tempo, but I think it’s fair to expect that he’ll wind up the season bringing up that shots rate, and hopefully bring a few goals along with it. I say “hopefully” because on Friday I placed a bet that Clarkson would score over 13.5 goals between now and the end of the season. We came to that number because I’d initially thought Clarkson would score 17.5 over an 82-game season, and the Leafs had 63 games left (at the time) and 17.5/82*63 = a little over 13.

Steve qualifies the salary that Clarkson is drawing as “difference-maker money” and I think that’s a fair phrase. However, I think when we look at player production, oftentimes we worry too much about what a player makes rather than what they’re actually doing on the ice. The offseason is when you have to worry about value and prices, whereas during the season, there’s no shame in being a $5-million third line player. A lot of people get blinded when a generally effective player is making more than he should be, and it creates an odd expectation wherein a player becomes simultaneously overrated and underrated. Clarkson’s not in that point yet, but if he keeps playing like he’s playing—which has been positive hockey for his first ten games with an even Corsi rate—ultimately the bounces are going to sync up with the offence he’s generating.

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We shouldn’t gauge a long-term contract based on ten games and while I ultimately think that this was a horrible, horrible bet by Dave Nonis that is going to look catastrophic three or four seasons from now, don’t let that take away that in the current season, Clarkson is probably going to be an effective player.

What I’d like to see is a bit more time with Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri. Those three haven’t been together at all, really, because Lupul got hurt when Clarkson returned from suspension, and now Kadri is off serving his own suspension. I’d like to see Clarkson fight less and try and be less aggressive along the boards, because I think in his effort to make an impression as a physical player, he’s focusing less on the real valuable things like shots and goals.

So we’ll see what happens. I think Clarkson has been playing better than the results he’s getting, and obviously both his 0.0% individual shooting percentage and the Leafs’ 2.6% shooting percentage when he’s on the ice are both unsustainably low. As long as this play continues, the shots will come, and the goals will come. As for shot quality… Clarkson is a high-volume shooter. He’s had some chances, but not a whole lot. As the shots increase, so will the chances and so will the goals, but shooting percentages can have crazy swings over a short period of time no matter who the shooter is.

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  • I think Clarkson has been about what was expected. If people expected him to get a tonne of PP time out of the gate (or ever possibly) or to live up to his deal with tangible production then it’s no surprise people are disappointed.

    I think Chris Selley tweeted that he’s not even that far off pace for goals based on his career shooting percentage. He should have been expected to have scored 2 goals, he has 0. Add the two and he has 5 points which in 10 games in 40 point pace and that plus some intangibles is what we were sold and that’s what the Leafs seem to have expected based on their comments about not signing him for his scoring.

    “However, I think when we look at player production, oftentimes we worry too much about what a player makes rather than what they’re actually doing on the ice.”

    I don’t think that you can divorce the too. If someone isn’t producing to the level of the cap room that they are occupying then they are harming the team. The bill the team has had to pay for their tight cap situation is mounting and flexibility has been tight since day one this year. If a player’s results don’t match up then it’s certainly a valid complaint.

    • That’s actually kinda the problem. He took a ton of shots before, but now he’s in a system that basically lives in its own end before rushing into the offensive zone and firing it in on a 2-on-1 or somesuch. He’s not going to get a ton of shots while hemmed in and collapsing around his net; it’s just not possible.

      Is he bad? No (at least, not necessarily). Was it a bad deal because he’s not a good fit for the style the team is playing? Yeah, quite possibly.

      • That’s sound plausible except for the fact Clarkson manages to outshoot (maintains positive Corsi) given his high number of defensive zone starts.

        My take is we need more players like Clarkson (and Kulemin and Ashton) who can control the boards, direct and force shots to the opposition goal and away from our zone and goal (and ideally with a scoring touch).

  • An interesting quote from Steve Yzerman about Olympic player selection: “some young players have changed their status with their play in the first 20 games or so. No matter how the veterans have started their seasons, we know what to expect from them.”
    I hope this applies to David Clarkson. The Leafs need him (and Kulemin and, especially, Kadri) to be better over the rest of the season.
    Otherwise I think Toronto’s playoff hopes are shaky.

  • STAN

    I’m tempted to respond with just two words – Valtteri Filpulla.

    While the Leafs braintrust was busy July 5th securing the services if T.J. Brennan, Kevin Marshall, Fraser McLaren, Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson, Steve Yzerman picked up a PROVEN centreman with great numbers and who’d been playing with some excellent talent for 7 seasons. AND Stevie got him for fewer dollars and years than Nonis gave Clarkson.

    But, it’s not like the Leafs needed a seasoned centreman. Instead, Nonis & Co. set their ill-conceived sights on a ‘gritty’ winger. Nazim Kadri has grit. Joffrey Lupul has grit. JvR has grit. Tyler Bozak has grit.

    What they needed was a skilled centreman who could elevate the players around him and put the puck in the net.

    I mean, there must be a reason that Yzerman is in charge of Canada’s olympics team.

    Just like the Leafs (Grabovski), he bought out a high-paid forward (Lecavalier) and then found a replacement. The big difference is Grabovski is a talented guy who was miscast by Randy Carlyle, while Lecavalier skills have been shockingly on the decline for at least 3 seasons.

    But then Yzerman made up for that unfortunate waste of money to pay a guy NOT to play, by getting a stud at great price. A MUCH better deal than what Lecavalier had left on his contract.

    Nonis, on the other hand, appears to have made things worse – paying this ‘gritty’ guy for the same money as Lupul and five times more and for 6 more years than Mason Raymond.

    Doesn’t make a lot of sense. in ANY business.

    Have Leafs Nation ever asked themselves why 29 other GMs passed on this guy? (28 of you believe Clarkson’s agent that the Oilers made an offer.)

    Now, I know, there are readers / posters on this sight who will disagree with my assessment and instead of refuting the numbers or making a great counter argument, will just be rude.

    C’est la vie.

    But I have to wonder about a guy who just laughs it off when asked about his lack of production and instead points to the ‘other things’ he does. I’m not exactly sure what those other things are for $5.25M that a $600K guy couldn’t do, but whatever.

    I would think that instead of relying on the likes of Raymond and Kadri and Kulemin to help him get a goal or threaten the net, that he might take it upon himself to raise his game. Figure it out. Somehow.

    Clarkson is quoted as saying about his lack of goal scoring, “I don’t think the fans ask those questions.” Well, I think they do. I’m certainly wondering and don’t see many signs that he has a nose for the net.

    He says, “There’s a lot of compliments” from fans.

    Sports writers who point out that he’s been on a checking line, or put out against the other teams top lines might ask themselves if Leafs management took this into account when they signed him. Are they suggesting he didn’t have to play against top guys while in New Jersey? Sounds like they’re making excuses and apologies.

    Me thinks there was a lack of due friggin’ diligence.
    The cap may increase a little bit next season, but that doesn’t change the fact that Nonis has made it far more difficult to put together a championship team by overpaying for an under performing asset. Good luck trading that contract.

    James Myrtle writes, “…the Leafs are actually performing better with him (Clarkson) on the ice than his goal total indicates. Clarkson is the only player on the roster that has been on the ice for more shots for than against at even strength and is the Leafs best possession player overall, two (related) areas in which Toronto desperately needs to improve if they hope to become a Stanley Cup contender.”

    That’s true, and stats don’t lie.

    But it’s turning those stats into the ones that count – goals and assists.

    Mrytle also concludes, rightly, that “What he hasn’t looked like is your typical $5.25-million player, a cap hit he’s set to earn until 2020 and which ate up the majority of GM Dave Nonis’s free cap space in the summer.”

    No matter how complimentary Randy Carlyle is, no matter much he publicly defends him (what else do we expect him to say?) you have too wonder if he too is asking himself, “They forked out $37M for this guy?”

    Myrtle quotes Clarkson as saying, “I wasn’t a 50 goal scorer that was brought in here strictly to score 50 goals.”

    I think our man misspoke when he says he wasn’t brought in to ‘strictly’ score 50. Unless he was talking about the length of the contract. Now THAT is doable.

    But how about one or two? Soon.

    Or, maybe Stevie will lose his mind for a moment and flip Filpulla for Clarkson. Straight up.

    • STAN

      Wow. I stopped reading about halfway through when I realized that this was another “Here’s what I would have done If I were GM” posts. Buddy, you need to either start your own blogging website (my suggestion is Stanscrazyrants.com) or cut down a bit on the typing here… This is beyond overkill.

      It would also help if any of your points were valid. Filppula had one good season for Detroit and he wouldn’t be a better fit then Clarkson, not to mention they’re not even the same position. The centre position was filled by Dave Bolland, and did you ever consider the possibility that Filppula didn’t WANT to come to Toronto? No, of course you didn’t.