September 18 2014 11:25AM
Let's call a spade a spade - David Clarkson has the worst contract in the history of the National Hockey League. There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Remove everything before the Salary Cap (because who cares), and you won't find a deal that is so perfectly combines being too much, too long, too waiver proof, and too buyout proof. There isn't even a chance of compliance buyouts before it ends! Even Rick DiPietro had that.
But in the mean time, he's a Toronto Maple Leaf, and is expected to be on the ice this year (along with five more after that). So, what can we expect out of the 36 million dollar man?
I'm sure that David Clarkson will be the first person to tell you that David Clarkson was an unmitigated disaster last season. Before he could even make his regular season debut, the Mimico native earned himself a ten game suspension for jumping off the bench to enter an pre-season altercation against the Buffalo Sabres. While one was able to appreciate him coming out to defend Phil Kessel, he removed himself from the entire start of the season to do not much more than hold a guy or two down.
The result? He never really got himself into form, having the worst season of his eight year NHL career. In sixty games, Clarkson put up just five goals and six assists, and had the lowest rate of production of any forward on the team who wasn't typecast to a fourth line role. His even strength production was down over 50% compared to his career average. He lead the team in fighting majors, with nine, but that isn't what you give a guy 5.25 million dollars for, is it?
He fell a lot. He was behind the play a lot. He visually looked confused as he skated around the ice. He couldn't turn shots into goals if his life depended on it. None of his game was clicking whatsoever - you almost wondered if he deserved to be in the NHL at all. To make matters worse, Clarkson suffered an elbow injury in January that sidelined him even further.
I don't expect Clarkson to get back to the numbers he put up in 2011/12, where he scored 30 goals and 16 assists in 80 games. That's extremely unlikely, especially with a third of his production coming from playing on the four-forward top powerplay unit that year.
I do, however, expect him to be vastly better than what we saw last year.
It's safe to assume that he's going to be more game-ready this time around; he probably won't get another ten game preseason suspension. Missing those games would make a difference on anyone; the season goes from jog to sprint while you're still at the starting line waiting to run. By the time you're ready to play, everybody has adjusted back into their amazing hockey playing selves again, and your team has conditioned themselves to play without you. It's a horrible situation to be in.
It's also likely that he'll be in better physical shape as well. Clarkson has been training all off-season in an effort to be ready, and you have to imagine his elbow is in better shape than it was a few months ago.
A sense of direction would likely help him too. Clarkson's success in New Jersey came because he was assigned a role to stick to - getting in front of the net and jamming any loose puck he could find at the goaltender, and he did it. Randy Carlyle seemed to give him freedom to play as he wanted; in some cases, this can be a curse as much as it can be a gift. His goal and point production wasn't the only thing that dipped last year - he was also shooting a lot less as a result of his stylistic shift - attempting shots at a 25% lower rate than he did in his previous seasons.
Maybe assistant coach Steve Spott can provide more direction that that regard; his players on the Marlies all talked about how the coaching staff built the system in a way to encourage their own success, and he might be able to structure something for Clarkson. Prior experience will help - Spott was his assistant coach for three years in the OHL.
Plus, you have to wonder how much of his production woes were luck driven; his 4.9% shooting percentage was half of his career average, and he and his linemates combined for goals on just 5.88% of their shots, which is only two thirds of the league average.
It wouldn't be too surprising to see Clarkson return to the second line Right Winger role and get a better opportunity to stay there, in a role that sees him leaving the carry-in work to Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul. If he's ready to play and given something to focus on, 15 to 20 goals and 30 to 35 points isn't completely out of the cards.
It's not worth $5.25 million dollars, it's not worth committing to him for the entirety of this collective bargaining agreement, but it's a step in the right direction. If he can be physical, keep the puck in the offensive zone, and stick up for his teammates, while offering a bit of production, the pill becomes easier to swallow.
David Clarkson is unlikely to get drafted in leagues that aren't close to a full 30 teams - so, most of them. If your league values penalty minutes and/or hits, he would be a strong alternative to consider over an enforcer, thanks to his higher probability of producing offensive statistics to go with those numbers. If you pass on him, he'll still be a guy to watch in free agency, in case of injury. For more Fantasy hockey news checkout Dailyfaceoff.com
I'm sure he's hoping to have a couple more of these this year. I'm not particularly hoping that his game is centred around breakaways, but hey, it was great to see on... April Fools Day.
Not even a real play, but still the highlight most remember from last year. Don't touch his water bottle!