This sounds like the most obvious statement on the planet.
“David Clarkson will probably benefit from a fresh start.”
A long-time member of the New Jersey Devils, David Clarkson is a prime example of overpaying a free agent to underperform.
At thirty, the best you can hope for from Clarkson — assuming his thirty-goal season was an anomaly, but still indicative of him being a consistent talent — is a strong third-line presence. He’s not a low enough scoring entity to warrant labelling him your ‘extra skater’ or a career fourth liner, but he’s also not defensively responsible enough to be put on the second line as a two-way player for a top six lineup.
Of course, that’s not the impression you’d get hearing the way he’s talked about in Toronto.
Players on the Toronto Maple Leafs are notoriously criticized in much the way you would a developing prospect (although strangely enough, Leafs fans treat their prospects with an almost eerie reverence in comparison). Players who are misused in roles that detract from their natural skill sets are considered ‘busts’, high-profile players are healthy scratched, and money is misused like the team is one big, drunken game of monopoly. A roster full of what should be admirable, well-respected talent is instead regarded with disdain; and, through the grapevine, undesired around the NHL.
It’s no secret that David Clarkson is far overpaid; at $5.25 million AAV over a five year time span, he’s making far more than any third liner ever should.
He’s not the only player with a dumb contract, but we don’t hate the other dumb contracts as much as his — mostly because the Toronto Maple Leafs can’t afford to overpay players, but also largely out of sheer frustration towards the way the last decade has played out in Toronto.
As David Clarkson, though, that can’t be easy. We know him as the villain who eats Toronto’s cap space and can’t perform on a thirty-goal-per-season clip, rather than a player who’s expected to outperform his likely talent ceiling getting overpaid through poor asset management. Combine his frustrations in the face of meeting fan expectations with the player-media dynamic in Toronto, and it’s a given that Clarkson would like to get a jump start elsewhere.
What will this fresh start give him, though, exactly?
He’s still making more than he’s worth; the fans know it, the hockey personnel community knows it, and Clarkson himself likely knows it better than anyone. That’s not going to change, and there’s nothing about that worth examining.
At his best, though, David Clarkson can likely be a twenty-goal-per-season kind of guy. Add in that he’s relatively healthy — and the Columbus Blue Jackets sorely need that — and he’s a good fit for their team.
It’s more than that, though.
In his phone-in press conference Friday morning, Clarkson said that he doesn’t regret playing in Toronto, just how it ended. After all, he was all but chased out of town with pitchforks; his final weeks in Ontario saw him a healthy scratch, fighting with the coach at practice, and all but careening around the ice wrecking-ball style when finally given a chance to skate out with the team. He couldn’t have left on a lower note.
With a team in a growing market, though, Clarkson is going to be given a chance to play for fans who have very few real expectations other than a few lucky bounces their way. The Columbus Blue Jackets have never won the draft lottery, never won a playoff game, and then went through more injuries this season than any team my nearly double. With twice as many man games lost as the next most plagued team, the Blue Jackets are likely thrilled to bits just to have Clarkson taking up a healthy space on their roster; while his cap hit counts (where Nathan Horton’s didn’t), he’s a healthy body on the ice — if that’s not the ultimate fresh start for a snake-bitten player like David Clarkson, you’d be hard-pressed to find one at all.
Of course, this could be just a stopping point for Clarkson. With three days until the trade deadline, a number of hungry GM’s, and the power to buy out players — and retain salary — the Columbus Blue Jackets might turn Clarkson over yet again. There’s no guarantee in the cap era that a blockbuster trade will be a final move for players like Clarkson, who have such a notorious reputation around the league through little fault of their own.
In all likelihood, though, Columbus will be where Clarkson remains. He’s a veteran presence, he’s got offensive upside, and he’s desperate to put the last two seasons behind him. If there was ever a place to do it, Ohio might be the perfect fit.