Price of a 30-Goal Season:  David Clarkson’s Cross to Bear

 

On July 5th, 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a major splash, signing rugged free agent winger, and Toronto native, David Clarkson to a 7-year, $36.75 million contract.  The signing brought a glimmer of hope to the sagging morale of Leafs Nation.  “Great signing!  Clarkson is going to be our next Wendel Clark,” some said. Others celebrated the idea of the missing element—a cultural upgrade, bringing an element of fearlessness, heart and toughness.  Two years removed from a 30-goal season and Stanley Cup final appearance, there was something to be excited about.

Fast forward two seasons, Leafs Nation is once again in shambles.  A recently fired coach, a disgruntled core group, mopey superstar, horrendous advanced statistics numbers, and so on, and so on, yada, yada, yada.  It’s like a dysfunctional household where mommy and daddy are constantly fighting.  Amid the carnage sits David Clarkson, the overpaid, knuckle-dragging disappointment—the whipping boy for all that is wrong in hockey-crazed Toronto.

Is the criticism fair?  Is David Clarkson underachieving?  According to his paystub, the answer is, yes.  However, when you examine his career averages, David Clarkson is doing exactly what he’s capable of:  Play third line minutes and produce third line results.

 

Regular Season
Season Team Games Goals Assists Points PIMs +/-
2007-08 New Jersey Devils 81 9 13 22 183 1
2008-09 New Jersey Devils 82 17 15 32 164 -1
2009-10 New Jersey Devils 46 11 13 24 85 3
2010-11 New Jersey Devils 82 12 6 18 116 -20
2011-12 New Jersey Devils 80 30 16 46 138 -8
2012-13 New Jersey Devils 48 15 9 24 78 -6
2013-14 Toronto Maple Leafs 60 5 6 11 93 -14
2014-15 Toronto Maple Leafs 43 9 4 13 47 -4
Per Season Average 65 14 10 24 113 -6
82-Game Average 82 17 13 30 142 -8
2014-15 Pace (82 Games) 82 17 8 25 90 -7

 

When you remove the career high season and the career low season, Clarkson’s career averages work out to the same.

How does Clarkson match up against players of a similar mold?

(Wingers with 13 – 14 mins per night, play gritty, no penalty kill time, 1 – 2 mins of powerplay time per game)

 

14-15 Cap Hit 5 on 5
Corsi For
Fenwick For  GP G A Pts PIMs +/- TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
David Clarkson 5.25 M 45.1 46.1 43 9 4 13 47 -4 14:38 2:03 0:00
Similar Players:
14-15 Cap Hit  5 on 5
Corsi For         
Fenwick For  GP G A Pts PIMs +/- TOI/G PP TOI/G SH TOI/G
Matt Cooke 2.5 M 45.4 47.0 20 3 4 7 11 0 12:18 0:02 2:15
Curtis Glencross 2.55 M 44.8 44.6 43 8 18 26 30 8 14:31 2:40 0:11
David Jones 4 M 44.7 46.2 30 6 7 13 8 3 14:23 1:00 0:01
Chris Stewart 4.15 M 37.3 36.8 42 5 7 12 41 -19 14:52 1:43 0:00
Steve Downie 1 M 47.4 48.4 37 7 13 20 141 8 13:01 1:38 0:01
Jamie McGinn 2.95 M 39.8 40.8 19 4 2 6 6 -9 14:46 2:01 0:07
Nino Niederreiter 2.66 M 54.0 54.0 42 14 6 20 12 -15 14:30 1:54 0:43
Bryan Bickell 4 M 55.6 55.1 43 9 9 18 21 -1 11:57 0:59 0:00
Similar Player Averages (2014-15) 2.9 M 46.1 46.6 35 7 8 15 34 -3 13:47 1:29 0:24

 

David Clarkson’s contract is a reflection of the pressure and panic of a hotbed market like Toronto.  Following a heartbreaking game 7 meltdown loss to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2013 layoffs, it was clear the Toronto Maple Leafs needed to become “harder to play against.”  The knee jerk reaction was to get grittier and tougher in front of the opposition net.  The 2013 off-season presented a weak free agent crop and David Clarkson, trending upwards at the time, was the cream of the crop.

Like many teams do, the Leafs became obsessed with adding that “missing element”, no matter what the cost might be.  No doubt, internal conversations revolved around “the 30-goal season” and “Stanley Cup finals experience”.  I’m sure the fact that Clarkson was able to kick in 30 goals on the second and third lines in a primarily defensive-minded system in New Jersey was touched upon.  In the end, the Leafs pulled the trigger and Clarkson returned home a very rich man.

At the end of the day, everyone will look back on the Clarkson signing and say that it was a typical Leafs move.  The fact is, every team has been guilty of the bad deal (see Bryzgalov, Richards, Gomez, Orpik, Souray, etc.).  With all the hype surrounding July 1st every summer, teams often make knee-jerk decisions and wake up 6 months later with buyer’s remorse.  It’s the nature of the system and it happens in every sport, multiple times a year.

If David Clarkson scores 17 goals instead of 30 during the 2011-12 season, he signs a deal for $2,900,000 per year and nobody bothers to bat an eye.  One magical year can turn a player from “Nuts and Bolts Player” to “Superstar”.  In modern professional sports, where players are judged by the amount of zeros on their annual paycheck, a big payday can be a godsend and a curse, all at the same time.  David Clarkson’s 30-goal season has become his cross to bear.

Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

Leave a Reply