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.
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.