Battle of the Grinders: Clarkson vs. Komarov


This summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed David Clarkson to a deal that was bad (7 years @ 5.25 per) when it was signed, but now feels extremely ugly. “Why did they sign this guy over keeping Clarke MacArthur?” many yelled, thinking he was the cheapest player they could compare him to. But as it turns out, we can dig even deeper. I give you: David Clarkson (2014 Model) vs. Leo Komarov (2013 Model).

Tale of the Tape

David Clarkson is doing his thing at 29 years old, making 5.25 million dollars per year. Heralded as the highest profile signing of 2013’s free agency, many are already considering him the worst of the bunch, and maybe the worst signing in Leafs history (the Salary Cap making it mean something helps). 

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Leo Komarov was doing his at 26 years old, making $850,000. The thought is that it would’ve cost about $2-2.5 million to retain him. Komarov is an NHL UFA this offseason, and would prefer to come back, and in blue and white. He even still wears his Leafs gear (when his team doesn’t ban him).

Ice Time

Both Clarkson and Komarov have about a half season to their credit in blue and white. Clarkson has played 59 games (missing 10 due to suspension and a handful of others due to injury), while Komarov played 42 for the Leafs (missing six of the partial season with an injury). Komarov played 585 minutes, Clarkson played 769.

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Player Time On Ice / Game  Even Strength TOI Powerplay TOI Penalty Kill TOI
Clarkson 15:41 14:35 1:05 0:00
Komarov 13:56 11:57 0:10 1:48

Komarov played on the third line, with the centre changing (slowly heating up Kadri and shutdown-assigned Grabovski being about equal in percentage) midway through the year. Occasionally, he saw time on the fourth, playing with Jay McClement down the middle as well. On the other wing, he typically had Clarke MacArthur or Nikolai Kulemin. Solid linemates overall, though most of this club went from being the “best second line in hockey” a few years prior to being given defensive responsibilities. Komarov’s role was to grind, be a pest, and if he saw a chance, maybe shoot the puck sometimes.

Clarkson has been all over the place this year, playing between the second, third, and fourth lines. Clarkson’s most frequent centre has been Nazem Kadri, and his most frequent winger has been Mason Raymond. In most cases, Clarkson’s motive was to score and produce, while adding a physical element to the game as well. 

With these descriptions, it’s no shock that Clarkson earned himself more minutes per game, and was getting more powerplay time, while Komarov lived his special teams life on the penalty kill. None of this really a metric of anything, other than maybe their reputation and Carlyle’s trust in them.


Like always, minute adjusted. I went right down the middle of both of their 82 game paces and landed on 1200 minutes.

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Player GP G A PTS PIM S S% Time On Ice
Clarkson 49 4 6 10 83 84 4.8 769
Komarov 42 4 5 9 18 51 7.8 585

Player GP G A PTS PIM S S% Time On Ice
Clarkson 82 6 9 16 130 131 4.8 1200
Komarov 82 8 10 18 37 105 7.8 1200

p>Well, isn’t this a train wreck and a half. We, the critical ones knew that David Clarkson wasn’t going to score 30 goals again. We knew he had never hit 20 assists. But even we expected better than this. This… is bad. Even with opportunity to produce, he just hasn’t done anything. Komarov, in his defensive, checking, pesting glory, would be on pace for two more points, and spend much less time in the penalty box. Clarkson, however, would be producing more shot volume, at his (hopefully unsustainably) low accuracy.

Subjective Stats

Real Time Stats literally change from building to building and shouldn’t be taken with a lot of salt, unless there’s a significant difference. Second table adjusted to 1200 minutes, obviously

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Player Hits Blocked Shots Missed Shots  Giveaways Takeaways
Clarkson 137 30 30 24 21
Komarov 176 24 28 15 16

Player Hits Blocked Shots Missed Shots Giveaways Takeaways
Clarkson 214 47 47 37 33
Komarov 361 49 57 31 33

Hitting, though, has a pretty significant difference. Komarov was known for drilling everything in sight, but this was supposed to be something Clarkson was good at too. Granted; that’s still a top 20 pace, but Komarov’s was a top-3. Also, Clarkson seems to fall about half the time he makes body contact, so that might actually be a detriment.

Blocked shots are about equal, missed shots are whatever, giveaways and takeaways show they both interact with the puck about as much (I don’t consider either stat to be a valuable metric of two way ability, but adding the two together shows involvement in the play, to extent).

Fancy Stats

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Player Pens Taken/60 Pens Drawn/60 On Ice SH% On Ice SV% PDO
Clarkson 1.1 0.3 6.29 935 998
Komarov 0.7 1.2 7.28 935 1008

Clarkson takes more penalties; Komarov draws much more. The Leafs have a lower shooting percentage with Clarkson on the ice, though a lot of that likely has to do with his low personal percentage combined with his high volume of shots. They both got about equal support between the pipes, and neither has abnormal “luck”

Player CF% CF% Rel QoC QoT O-Zone Starts O-Zone Finishes
Clarkson 43.20% 1.10% 0.556 -0.407 35.1% 44.3%
Komarov 45.60% 1.80% 2.34 0.089 43.5% 45.4%

The two both seem to be more involved in opportunities to score (attempted shots) than their teammates, though more often than not, it’s their opponents at work. Both move the puck into the offensive zone, though Clarkson has the edge here. Komarov is playing against tougher opponents (unsurprising in his shutdown role) and Clarkson has weaker two-way teammates. Consider this a wash, of sorts.

Distraction Factor

Leo Komarov chirps in five different languages, but often, just a hit and a smirk proved enough to get the opposition to lose sight of the hockey game and/or punch him in the face and earn themselves a minor penalty. He’s even better at this in the KHL, where he’s playing quality offensive minutes while doing it.

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David Clarkson defends the water bottles and drops the gloves a lot. If there’s one stat where he comes out way ahead, it’s the fact that he’s winning the fight count 7-0 (though Komarov has a scrap against Chris Kelly in the playoffs).


Even ignoring the money, term, or whatever, Leo Komarov produced at a better rate, and played “his game” more effectively than David Clarkson has this year, all while in a defensive role. Using their most recent Toronto/NHL seasons as metrics, Komarov is a better hockey player.

Granted, this is also Clarkson’s worst year of his career, and you have to imagine he bounces back a little bit. And at the same time, Komarov ultimately left because he had a guarantee of the minutes he’d need to make his case to play for Team Finland. But at the same time, you have to imagine that he’d continue to improve as he adjusted to the National Hockey League.

Anyway, my point isn’t to pump up Komarov as a superstar. Far from it. I really wish he was still on the roster, but he’s just a really effective role player at the end of the day. The issue, of course, is that $37 million dollars spent and seven years committed, and it doesn’t look like David Clarkson is even that.

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Bonus Content

From former TLN writer and friend of the blog Andrey Osadchenko, check out this sit down with Leo!

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  • Chainsawz

    We all know Clarkson sucks and has a terrible contract. But instead of piling onto this crap pile why not try doing something more difficult – like answering how should Carlyle use Clarkson or what should Nonis do with him. Or what does Clarkson need to do to improve his game.

    It seems people are complaining about Clarkson (sigh) because there life is terrible and Clarkson rakes in 5M/yr more then they do. My lord my wife doesn’t even complain and whine as much about by mess and mistake that some fans do about Clarkson. Do people need to consider psychological help with how to handle hurt expectations?

  • Chainsawz

    Komarov is the better player for 2mil or so. I was a clarkson guy going into this season but know i want him off the team.

    Anytrading partners out there for this plug in the offseason?

    Unless he has a KILLER playoff performance(ala Game7 or OT winners, take out Crosby, top5 pts etc) we would better off eating 1ish mil a year on his contract and dealing him to a cap rich/money poor team since most of his pay is signing bonus (i think) and would get a team to the floor without a hefty actual salary cost to the owner.


    Nevertheless get Komarov back here…him Bodie and Damigo/Ashton are less cash and more useful and hungry

    PS JR…do your next article on offseason trading partner speculation for Clarkson…it will be your most read piece within a week no problem.

    Go Leefs

  • Chainsawz

    The analytic community is amazing at telling you the obvious (clarkson sucks and leafs get outshot) but are at a loss at suggesting ways to improve the situation.

    • Because the analytics community is smart enough to know not to take the HFBoards approach and say “oh we can just trade x and a 2nd for x and it’s done”. The most we can do is raise an eyebrow from the start, and point out concerns. I can tell you player I want and lines that I want to see, but that contributes nothing. At least evaluation avoids rhetoric

  • Chainsawz

    It is really easy to pile on the slurs to a player that is having an off year, but history has shown that Clarkson can mix it up and agitate when the going gets tough in the playoffs. What has MacArthur brought to the table for the Senators. Grabovski and MacArthur had an awful series against Boston and the management thought they could improve. Has Clarkson worked out this year? No, he has not, here is hoping that the rest of the way he can be counted on for some real tough minutes.

  • TGT23

    If Clarkson were a 2-3m player I’d have absolutely no problem with his game. He’s physical, can put up some points and probably will now that Bolland is back.

    But, of course, he isn’t a 2m player. As a 5m player he needs to be better. I believe he can be better. I think he’ll be better next season. But, it won’t take the stink off this season unless he has a couple good ones.

    And, if the Leafs miss the playoffs, a lot of fingers will be pointed at him.