Leafs Roster Preview – David Clarkson

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.

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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?

Last Season

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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.

This Season

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. 

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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.

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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.

Fantasy Value

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


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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!

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  • Bertly83

    While I am somewhat skeptical of Marlies drafted so low, I can see David Clarkson continuing to play a role for the players, and hopefully with size. The one area you can’t teach is the big club.

  • Bertly83

    eh…. bud.. this time around the pressure is going to be worse. Best of luck, but better not mock this one up.

    Not sure, maybe someone can quote me with the correct answer – but I think the leafs can trade him with retained salary. Which would be cheaper than a buyout.

  • CMpuck

    It’s the worst contract since Komisarek, since Finger, since McCabe… typical Toronto whining, Clarkson will obviously be better than last season. He’s basically the new Ryan Malone.

    Still like him better than Garbo cause lest Clarkson f’ing lifts.

  • STAN

    I think an article about the negative impact of the Toronto Media on the success of the Toronto maple Leafs would be timely at this moment.

    After Carlyles comment about Reimer playing just ok
    and the media blowing it out of all proportion
    did Reimer win another game for the rest of the season?

    Will Kessel still want to play in Toronto after todays fiasco?? The Star reporting that Kessel hates all coaches, humbling Carlyle to admit that Kessel gets away with more than others. And poor Steve Spott
    …what a way to start off the 2014 campaign.

    True or not …I as a fan of the Leafs want them to
    win and I dont know how they possibly can with a
    sharp shooting media trying to do their best to bite the hand that feeds them, and cause discord within the Leafs dressing room.

    Players even making millions are people too.
    I think the Leafs management has made prudent off season moves, but the media I fear is going to derail any chance the Leafs have for success this season before it even starts.

    Not every truth is worthy of being reported…..
    after years of being the brunt of the Burke trade for 2 first round picks that brought Kessel here (our only real star player)
    now this attack upon his character I can see will
    distract the Leafs on the first day of training camp.
    Cannot the Leafs expect a little positive re- enforcement from the Toronto media?

    Why would Stamkoes ever want to subject himself
    to such attacks ????
    and you wonder why so many stars no longer want to sign in Toronto.

    This attack on Kessel’s character (who played very well in the only playoffs he played in Toronto by the way) was unnecessary, destructive, and the timing is obviously calculated to inflict maximum harm to the Toronto dressing room which will is meant to adversely effect their on ice performance and ultimately the success of the leafs to start the season.

    Leafs fans deserve a winning team,
    the Leafs deserve a chance to play a game before
    having such a vicious calculated attack by the Toronto media.

    by dismayed
    Leaf Fan.

  • giproc

    Clarkson had horrible chemistry with Lupul and Kadri. It almost seemed like he was trying to direct traffic, telling the other two how to play. The body language between the three was ALL negative, plus Clarkson is far too slow to keep up with any of the Top 5.

    If the Leafs are set on giving Clarkson the #2 RW slot, they might want to try JVR on that line instead of Lupul. Lupul has proven he can play with Bozak and Kessel, plus it might revive him. And I think JVR is good enough to play with any centre, regardless of the dead weight on RW.

  • giproc

    The comment by Mark about the negative Toronto media is right on the mark. The whole media both talk, written and TV we see and hear a lot of talking heads that in order to keep themselves relevant dig up dirt because negative stuff sells better than support and some upbeat reporting. This is a case of Garbage in Garbage out. If we get fed negative crap all the time it is really hard to stay upbeat. I have been following the Leafs for over 55 years and have been through some very rough years and would love to be able to both hear, read and see some good positive reporting. The Leafs are doing a good job at building the base(prospects)in the farm system. This is the base of the NHL product and building this system takes time, quite a long time as a matter of fact because the Leafs have had a history dealing prospects and draft picks away. This is a team that is getting better. Let us just get behind the team and cheer instead of bitch and find fault. After all are we fans or critics?