David Clarkson is a good hockey player

When looking at the David Clarkson deal, I think it’s important to take into consideration the contract length more than the salary cap hit or the quality of the player. The objective fact of the matter is that the Leafs paid too many years for a player past his prime and relatively unproven.

If you just looked at Clarkson’s season on statistics website Behind the Net, you’ll find a player that led the New Jersey Devils in Corsi, doing it with even competition and zone starts. If you look at the previous season, you’ll find a player that was slightly above average in Corsi at +2.7 facing even competition and zone starts.

In both seasons, Clarkson’s PDO is below 1000 and this is worth pointing out. Clarkson has scored 45 goals in the last two seasons. He is one of 50 players to score at least 40 goals the last two seasons, and he has done so taking 3.19 shots per game (15th of the 50) and hasn’t needed a real huge shooting percentage to get it done. At just 11.0%, Clarkson is 44th in shooting percentage.

So you can make the argument that Clarkson is actually a pretty good player that has even gotten unlucky over the last two seasons. His shot rate is absurd, and he is one of the best players in the NHL at putting pucks on net. That was identified as something that was trending upwards when John Fischer at In Lou We Trust was looking at Clarkson during the Devils’ Stanley Cup Finals season:

Clarkson’s getting shots on net at a rate of approximately 2.72 shots per game. That’s a higher rate than ever before in his career, even more so than during a 7 game stint back in 2006-07. It’s the third highest shooting rate on the team behind Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Moreover, it’s a rate that has been rising in each of his last four seasons. While Clarkson’s shooting percentage may cool off, this is likely going to remain more consistent throughout the season. For better or worse, Clarkson loves to fire away when he’s got the puck instead of looking for a pass. That’s not going to change, so if he stays healthy, then he has a shot at breaking 200 shots. Whether that will lead to 20 goals (definitely possible) or his current pace of 31 (not quite so likely) remains to be seen.

Clarkson did end up on that 31-goal pace, finishing with 30 during the 2012 season. One of the things you note when looking at Clarkson is that he’s a player that’s been trending upwards over the last five seasons, taking more shots and scoring more goals.

But the issue with Clarkson is that he’s not a particularly good shooter. Especially for a player that drives the net a lot, most of Clarkson’s shots don’t end up in the back of the net, and Clarkson’s 44th-out-of-50 performance shooting the puck over the last two seasons is no anomaly. If you look at two-year blocks of time, you’ll see that Clarkson had a brief blip when he was 7th on the New Jersey Devils’ regular forwards in shooting percentage. His goals per 60 went from mid-range up to the top of the Devils’ lineup:

Two-year Block Goals/60 Shots/60 Shot % Corsi %
07-09 .718 (5th) 9.44 (5th) 7.61% (9th) .501 (9th)
08-10 .814 (4th) 9.26 (2nd) 8.80% (7th) .485 (8th)
09-11 .676 (6th) 10.14 (2nd) 6.67% (7th) .500 (9th)
10-12 .874 (3rd) 10.55 (1st) 8.29% (7th) .515 (7th)
11-13 .941 (1st) 10.93 (1st) 8.61% (8th) .551 (3rd)

(source: stats.hockeyanalysis.com)

Clarkson played alongside Adam Henrique between 2011 and 2013, and I’m not sure that the Leafs have a centreman on the roster as good as Adam Henrique, depending on where Nazem Kadri falls on the development side this summer. The Devils mix up their roster possibly more than any other team, and Clarkson didn’t exactly have regular linemates kicking around.

Together with Patrik Elias, Clarkson’s most common linemate between 2008 and 2013, the Devils had a 58.1% Corsi rate. But Clarkson was just 50.7% away from Elias compared to 54.8% for Elias. While I’m confident in suggesting those two had synergy, it appears the play was mostly being driven by Elias.

With Henrique? Henrique had a 52.7% Corsi rate away from Clarkson, while Clarkson was 51.7% away from Henrique. Together, they were 55.3%. Again, some synergy, but the play is mostly being driven by an opposite player on the line.

Zach Parise I would say is the third best linemate that he’s had. Those two did not work together well at all (46.2%) but Parise is a 54.8% away from Clarkson while Clarkson is just a 52.4% away from Parise.

(source: stats.hockeyanalysis.com)

So while Clarkson’s Corsi has bounced around a bit, I think that’s mostly due to a linemate shuffle. I’m quite certain that Kadri has some modicum of play-driving ability, and that should be a fun combination for Leafs fans if they’re put together on the team’s second line for two seasons. But Kadri is probably not one of the few players that can drive his linemates’ shooting percentages, and it’s a combination that should result in a lot of goals for and a lot of Corsis, but is it one worth committing to?

One of the interesting things I found in my post forecasting David Clarkson’s future is that shooting percentages for top scorers aged 26-28 falls off by a percentage point when they hit ages 29 to 32. While Clarkson shoots a lot, I worry about Clarkson not being able to put the puck into the net very much, or at least enough that makes his puck possession ability that is over 50% not worth all that much more in the way of goals, particularly if he’s going to be taking shots from a more offensively gifted Nazem Kadri.

So we’ll see what happens. I like Clarkson between ages 30 and 32 because he’s shown a lot of improvement past the age when a player’s prime usually ends, but I’m not confident that he’ll age like fine wine. Eventually, he won’t be a guy with an elevated shot rate that results in keeping his team above even in goals when he’s on the ice, and the Leafs have probably bought multiple years of “old David Clarkson”.

That’s why I don’t like the deal. Nothing against Clarkson or the salary cap hit, but the term is just too much to handle. Small mistakes add up, and Clarkson’s contract four or five years from today is going to be a lot more expensive than the remaining money the team is paying on the Darcy Tucker and Colby Armstrong buyouts.

  • I mostly agree. I like Clarkson and am not all that against the cap hit. Just would have preferred it much more if it was 5 years not 7 years but cap might rise a lot over next 5 years so may not be all that bad.

  • jasken

    you and your corsi crap all the time . if the player is a good player and plays a tyle your team needs and how well he meshes with his line mates is what u look at not a stupid corsi

    • So how do you “look at” how he meshes with linemates he hasn’t played with yet? Every signing should be trial and error?

      And what of Cam’s earlier posts, when he showed how Grabovski had better chemistry with Kessel than Bozak did…that’s “playing with your teammates” kind of stuff people seem willing to ignore when it comes to Bozak.

      • You can’t, that’s the thing. This is one of the intangibles that Cam fairly often fails to recognize. I understand that stats are his way of reporting and making sense of the player, but stats aren’t all.

        I’m with TJ in saying that well, I feel Cam is a little overdrawn with the stats. Perhaps instead of looking at it one dimensional all the time he could add some variance in how he approaches his articles.

        • If they’re intangibles, you can’t count them, hence you can’t add them to your roster.

          I think that stuff can be created naturally. Put 20 good hockey players in a room and they’ll figure it out for themselves.

          But paying for much more than Clarkson’s hockey ability because he brings an intangible thing we can’t count? Yeah… If they’re ‘intangible’, how do you know a guy has them?

  • I think I’d also be worried about a goal scorer that got it done on volume and probably wasn’t pushing play all that much himself coming to a team that as well established problems getting offensive zone time.

    Maybe his offensive contribution evaporates outside of a strong possession system like New Jersey has.

  • jasken

    I wont make judgments on Clarkson until after next season whether he’s worth 5.5 mil and 7 yrs. Sure in Jersey he would be, but new team and teammates hes proved nothing here yet. Could go either way.

  • jasken

    How do count an emotion if it helps a player play above his normal status quo what do you call it. How do you mark it when he incites the rest of the team into a mob mentality driven focus determination to win. These have factors the announcers call them momentum or riding a hot streak, feeling the vibe, Osmosis by coaches one persons gets it and passes it on to teammates whatever you call it you wont find it on paper but you sure will see it in a game. That’s why there are line juggling and such especially if 1 line is hot and another is not. No stat will say this guy can bring this to the table. Clarkson is a local boy playing for his hometown the energy and passion I hope what he brings will be similar to days of dougie Gilmour. He will be a fan favorite we all saw Lupuls hype the rejuvenation the excitement he brought past 2 seasons. Another Fiesty winger with talent and that hype is what Leafs need it brings stuff to players that no stat will show you. Positive thinking and a belief to win and compete and that’s what has been in this city for a longtime. If the players didn’t believe they were capable of competing why would anyone else. If players and coaches around the league say this team competes is tough and is contender I think I will take their word for it they are facing them on ice.

  • jasken

    I like Clarkson just fine and expect to for a few more years until his contract holds the Leafs back.

    All this talk of intangibles and character is really annoying me. What about Grabovski’s intangibles? How many times over the last few years did we see him get concussed and not only keep playing but play better?

    For several years, when Wilson played him in an offensive role, Grabbo, Kulemin and MacArthur were consistently the Leafs best line. It was obvious without looking at stats that they dominated their opposition in terms of possession.

    Also, he tried to fight the entire Habs roster, which is probably one of the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen.