Leafs sign 29-year-old, one-time 20-goal scorer to seven-year contract

Cam Charron
July 05 2013 12:17PM

Toronto has signed David Clarkson to a seven-year deal. The money doesn't mind me right now, but this is not a good deal. It is seven years.

I've mentioned it before that I like following the Maple Leafs, I like writing for this blog and I like interacting with the Toronto Maple Leafs fanbase because there are lot of real intelligent hockey fans in Toronto. 

But days like today make it hard to stomach. Even though I didn't grow up a Leafs fan, I want the team to do well. I want them to make good decisions and I want them to win a lot of games because there are a lot of long-suffering fans in Toronto that deserve to see this team make another long playoff run.

But that won't be happening any time soon. The Leafs recognized that last season, they perhaps overplayed their hand and won more games than they deserved. Kudos to them on doing that. Unfortunately, they tried to upgrade in all the wrong areas, and one of those was on the wing.

When David Clarkson was Nikolai Kulemin's age, he was just another depth forward who was slightly worse on offence than Kulemin and was slightly worse than Kulemin and was slightly smaller than Kulemin. Then he went off and scored 30 goals on a 13.2% shooting rate and all of a sudden, analysts that decry the use of analytics in any sort of writing and tell me to "watch the game" suddenly had Clarkson pencilled in as one of the elite members of the 2013 free agency class.

And perhaps he is. David Clarkson is a good hockey player. He shoots the puck a lot, and drove a lot of possession in the last the couple of years with the New Jersey Devils. But he is also 29 years old and will be 30 next season, and while you can reasonably expect him to be productive for another two-to-three seasons, the Leafs gave maximum term to a player whose best offensive days are behind him.

Driving Play wrote about the importance of looking at term a month ago:

There's not a lot of money available in free agency and it's thought that the salary cap will go up in future seasons.  What can teams offer to outbid one another?  Absent a state or province with no income tax or the chance to play for a contender, there's not much - except years on the contract.  It will not be dollars per year that necessarily determine who goes where, it'll be how many years a team is offering.  And indeed, with a rising salary cap, why not take the risk that Mike Ribeiro will be productive at 36?  Won't his cap hit just be the NHL average by the time the contract ends?  Isn't medical science always advancing?  So on July 5 when your team appears to have landed a 'bargain' compared to years past, make sure to check the number of years on the deal - those July fist-pumps could easily curdle into an endless checking of capgeek's buyout calculator by the time 2015 rolls around.

The salary cap is going to go up a lot three years from now and Clarkson's deal will seem like a drop in the bucket, but we've already seen these drops in the bucket add up to real problems for the Leafs. The signings of Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, the salary held back in the Jonathan Bernier trade and the buyouts to Darcy Tucker and Colby Armstrong forced the Maple Leafs into buying out their second best forward. This is a lot of term for a winger that has scored more than 17 goals exactly once in his NHL career and has played a full 82-game season exactly twice.

But the worst thing about it is just how predictable Dave Nonis has been throughout all this. Despite James Reimer dragging the Maple Leafs into the playoffs by the scruff of their necks last season, Nonis saw nothing that made him reconsider bringing in a more inexperienced goaltender with more potential to become the team's highest-paid goalie.

Everybody wanted Nonis to get a goaltender, and everybody thought that Nonis would draft Frederick Gauthier. Everything seemed to link David Clarkson to the Maple Leafs. It's just so bloody predictable, and Nonis has made no moves that makes me think this team is not being run by the Toronto Sun's editorial board.

I do not for a second think that the Toronto Maple Leafs executive staff spent half an hour on Hockey Reference to see how wingers that score a similar amount to Clarkson age. They have no clue how Clarkson will play when he's 33, but they liked what they saw when he was 29. There is no reason to give this player more than three years, and I am more than prepared to eat some crow over how he performs next year and possibly the year after. But four years from now, I don't know. The Leafs paid for term to keep a cap hit low because Nonis thinks that his current group, less Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, can win a Stanley Cup within two or three years. He is wrong on that front.

There's a reason to get excited over Clarkson, because I think he's a good player, but I'm not convinced he provides an upgrade over Nikolai Kulemin, the player that he is essentially going to replace in the lineup.

However, this is a seven-year deal for a 29-year old, with a limited no-movement clause. Like Bernier, he'd better come better than advertised, or the Leafs will have a tough time winning more games than Clarkson's age.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 vetinari
July 05 2013, 12:36PM
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Not to wish him bad karma, but Clarkson is likely to be candidate for buyout in about... 2017/18? I think that the free agency market was extremely thin and he played his hand right. I never fault a player for taking the money but GMs have really got to take a step back before offering these contracts.

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#2 leaferfan
July 05 2013, 12:44PM
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Clarkson has a positive shot differential with fair zone starts. Sure his contract is long but stop exagerrating. This will help the teams shot differential. Please present a fair assessment of the move and not such a one sided negative view please

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#3 MaxPower417
July 05 2013, 12:48PM
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This has been the most disheartening day.

"Nonis has made no moves that makes me think this team is not being run by the Toronto Sun's editorial board."

These were my exact thoughts, and scary, scary thoughts they are.

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#5 millzy09
July 05 2013, 01:11PM
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No he's not 7 years good and the contract is about 3 years too long. Here's the problem. Where else did you see an improvement that could be made? Clarkson was the best available winger and there is no doubt in my mind that at least 5 teams had 5, 6 and 7 year deals on the table at around the same money. Teams need to overextend themselves at free agency to sign players because there is competition. So you can either sit around with your hands in your pocket year after year and watch players sign elsewhere or you can pull your hands out with some money in them and take a shot at making your team better.

If he pans out for 4 years, the cap will likely be 8-10 million higher and this won't be as tough to stomach. Fact of the matter is that there are plenty of players overpaid in the league and its just the way it goes. Projected numbers were 6m/year....at least the Leafs didn't pay that.

And btw, if you hate that the moves are predictable, perhaps Nonis should go take a blind stab at a bunch of players with big money so that everyone can complain about how he doesn't know what he's doing. At least it won't be predictable.

I'm not here to say everything will work out, but I don't think this is all doom and gloom.

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#6 m@
July 05 2013, 01:46PM
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I don't get it...

Nonis gets blasted for keeping players who do not have great #fancystats... and then he signs Clarkson who does quite well in the #fancystats and he's too old at 29?

Starting to think that no matter what the Leafs do it will somehow be turned into a negative on this site.

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#8 jasken
July 05 2013, 09:13PM
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Cam Charron wrote:

I think you've missed the point.

MacArthur is on a much cheaper, much more manageable term than Clarkson is. So is Kulemin. Both will arguably provide more value over the course of their shorter deals than Clarkson will for his long one.

Clarkson is a good player. But he won't be in four or five years from today.

I wouldn't say that for sure its not likely but dont mean he wont be. St.Louis had most points in a season at 31, and has been racking up numbers better then he did when he was in his 20s ever since. Fact is St.louis was alot like Bozak before he turned what 28 so saying someone wont get better or be a good player later is a load of garbage.

A player defines himself and who he is its all on a person's determination and perseverance on what they accomplish. Now if there is some secret stat out there that says a player who didn't get 40 points a season in any of previous 4 season is gonna turn into an elite please feel free to magically predict the next 100 pt player I am sure nonis would be glad to grab him.

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#9 Dave
July 05 2013, 09:57PM
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@jasken

You can't bank on the outliers who manage to be better after they peak on the aging curve. In all likelihood the Clarkson deal will hurt the Leafs in about 4-5 years when his contract is a burden on the cap.

Not to mention Clarkson will come in as the "hero" and have massive expectations to live up to (already compared to Wendel). Would not surprise me to see him crack under the pressure and have Leafs fans resent the contract even earlier.

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#10 jasken
July 05 2013, 10:31PM
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Dave wrote:

You can't bank on the outliers who manage to be better after they peak on the aging curve. In all likelihood the Clarkson deal will hurt the Leafs in about 4-5 years when his contract is a burden on the cap.

Not to mention Clarkson will come in as the "hero" and have massive expectations to live up to (already compared to Wendel). Would not surprise me to see him crack under the pressure and have Leafs fans resent the contract even earlier.

Glad people have some head on their shoulder's then. If that's the case all he has to do is just show up and lay a few body checks every night and play 82 games that would be worth 3 wendel Clark years. Clark only avg 52 games a season and a big 37 pts a season if Clarkson gets more then that he would be god like. Clarkson has no pressure other then what media puts on him I know he avgs 24 pts about a season so far to this point in his career and anything more then that he exceeds expectations. Not banking on anything just look at his stats his best year was last year at 28 years of age his numbers decide to climb. People always assume they capped and never take in consideration on the team system their in. The way they are played these are factors.

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#11 Dave
July 06 2013, 08:47PM
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jasken wrote:

Glad people have some head on their shoulder's then. If that's the case all he has to do is just show up and lay a few body checks every night and play 82 games that would be worth 3 wendel Clark years. Clark only avg 52 games a season and a big 37 pts a season if Clarkson gets more then that he would be god like. Clarkson has no pressure other then what media puts on him I know he avgs 24 pts about a season so far to this point in his career and anything more then that he exceeds expectations. Not banking on anything just look at his stats his best year was last year at 28 years of age his numbers decide to climb. People always assume they capped and never take in consideration on the team system their in. The way they are played these are factors.

Bro, I have no idea what you're saying because you type like a Justin Bieber obsessed fourth grader on MSN five years ago.

FIO

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