Remember Me?

It’s amazing what we forget sometimes.

I wrote a Leafs news and notes post yesterday, recapping a few little Leafs tidbits. Nothing too important, really. I mentioned that Frazer McLaren is not eligible to return to the lineup until the Leafs’ 11th game of the season against Columbus. Shortly after I published the post, I received this tweet.

Holy crap – I forgot about David Clarkson.

I did some thinking about it, and it dawned on me that what’s happening right now could be the absolute perfect situation for him. 

Whenever a big name like Clarkson comes to Toronto, it’s a circus of media and fan pressure. The fact that he’s a hometown boy just makes it even worse. He was on the cover of The Hockey News before he even played a game here, for crying out loud. But every now and then, playing in the hockey hotbed that is Toronto works to your advantage.

The Leafs have opened the season with one of the league’s best records at 5-1-0. People are talking about Phil Kessel’s massive contract extension. People are talking about the hot start of guys like Mason Raymond and recent OT hero Dave Bolland. People are talking about how Jonathan Bernier has stolen the show on more than one occasion. People are talking about whether Morgan Rielly will stay in the NHL or be sent back to junior. People are talking about whether Jake Gardiner will be traded or not. It’s the Leafs. People are talking about everything.

Except David Clarkson.

At this point, six games into the season with a hot team full of headlines and interesting stories, David Clarkson is an afterthought. And that’s perfect.

This certainly isn’t a knock on Clarkson, but this 10-game suspension he’s got is starting to look like a good thing. Look, if the Leafs were crapping the bed right now, it’d be a different story. "Why did he have to leave the bench and get suspended? What a moron!" But with the team sitting at 5-1-0, the Leafs could lose each of the four remaining games without Clarkson and still be at .500 by the time he gets back.

Now the pressure is off. Well, somewhat. It’s never "off" in Toronto. But the way the Leafs are winning games, the way rookies like David Broll, Josh Leivo, and Carter Ashton have come in and played well, the way the story is anything but David Clarkson right now is a good thing.

Clarkson is coming into town as a big-name free agent with a big contract. Hometown boy. A good ol’ Canadian boy who gets in the dirty areas and scores ’em however he can. A no-nonsense tough guy with the strength of Wendel Clark, Gary Roberts, and Chuck Norris combined. You could hear fans proclaim him as the one to return the Leafs to the promised land.

"And yay, there lived a warrior named Clarkson. Strong of heart, will, and chin. He slayethed the demon and once he was freed from the Devil(s) grasp, he made haste to his homeland of blue and white. And with his return, the prodigal son, the chosen one, Clarkson, shall lead his people from their near 50-year suffering, into glory, and reclaim the chalice once and for all."

If the Leafs were 5-1-0 with Clarkson, he’d be the new Wendel. If the Leafs were 0-5-1 with him, he’d be the new Komisarek. Both are wrong.

This 10-game suspension allows Clarkson to watch. It allows him to breathe it all in. "I’m a Leaf." It allows him to get a little more acquainted with his teammates and systems in practice before being tested in an NHL game.

It allows him to be one of the guys. Not the guy. A guy. A part of the team, which is what the Leafs need.

It’s not even like Clarkson did something particularly dirty or heinous to earn his suspension, either. He didn’t drill a guy from behind. He didn’t send a flying elbow through somebody’s skull. He left the bench to restrain a 6’8", 259 lbs goon from clobbering his team’s best player. It was an error in judgment and not a single punch was thrown. Sure, it was foolish to leave the bench fully knowing that the rules state you’ll get 10 games, but if he had earned himself a suspension from a dirty hit, you can bet fans and media would hold it against him a lot more than they are for this incident.

At his best, David Clarkson is hell on skates. He’s in your crease, he’s running guys over, he’s taking on your toughest players. He’s adrenaline personified. Sometimes however, you can have too much of a good thing. He was excited and wanted to prove himself to his teammates and the rabid fans of this team. Maybe too excited. Now he gets a chance to collect himself and fully process what it takes to play for the Leafs.

David Clarkson is an afterthought right now, and when his 10 games are up, it’ll be up to him to make people remember why they were so excited in the first place..

  • STAN

    Excellent points.

    Another win tonight and the Leafs are 6-1, tops in the East. 27 goals for, just 16 against in 7 games. Both goaltenders are playing mostly lights out. They need to. They are allowing the most shots in the league.

    Shot differential is alarming.

    So. The questions is if the Leafs are 9-1, 8-2 or 7-3 when Clarkson returns, does he help bring that shots against down? Y’know, hit more people and take them off the puck so they can’t make a pass, which will lead to another chance against ? Take out those shooters in the Leafs end ?

    If he comes back to a 9-1 team and they start to sag, look out. Leafs Nation is many things. Patience is one of them.

    I think there’s a column to be done on how is rerun COULD, just could, upset the balance.

    And PLEASE, feel free to trash trash away folks… ’cause a few thoughts outside pure cheerleading isn’t always welcome on this site.

    • About the shot differential. I see what everyone is saying, and they are not wrong. However, on the first breakaway on Reimer, I flashed back to many, many, many other breakaways of the past, and how much dread I used to feel, usually for good reason, as the next play was usually at the centre dot. But not this time, I told myself, self, don’t worry, Reimer’s got this. I no longer worry about the shots we give up because of the awesome goal tending we’re getting, and a large number of them are of the not dangerous variety. I’m not sure about Bernier, but this team seems to play loose in front of Reimer, and it usually doesn’t matter. Corsi is not the be all and end all of stats, goals are, and as long as we’re scoring more than the other team 6-7 nights out of 10, we’ll be fine.

  • Clarkson did luck out because the team is doing it without his presence and as you alluded to, the headlines are not about him.

    But as we get closer to the 11th game, there will be speculation on what to expect. Now David proclaims he is keeping in shape and pushing his tesmstes. Nonis proclaimed he was a free agent aquired for his aggressiveness, truculence with the bonus if offensive ability. So does Leaf Nation expect goals from clarkson or just a shore up on team defense?

    Bolland has provided big goals that had significant meaning and all his assists have significant meaning. He is putting up points from the 2nd or 3rd line. Yes he has benefitted playing with hot teammates also (Raymond and Kadri) at times. Where will Clarkson fit in the lineup and who he plays with will determine the script the writers use for his debut season as a Leaf. No excuses as per health or fitness because he had plenty of time to cover those things. Looking forward to clarkson debut!

  • STAN

    I agree this is perfect scenario. If clarkson starts the year he likely plays 2nd line minutes with Kadri and lupul and is immediately put on the hot seat to produce offence (even though that’s not the main reason we signed him) This way Carlyle can start him with bolland and kulemin/Raymond and not take any heat for “overpaying a third liner” because he can use the excuse that he’s just easing him into the lineup. With kulemin and clarkson back we have a top 9 that can rival most in the league as far as scoring depth with

    JVR Bozak Kessel
    Lupul Kadri Kulemin
    Raymond Bolland Clarkson

  • Millerrr

    @STAN Clarkson coming back will help the Leafs in terms of their horrid shot differential, but not necessarily in that way. Clarkson is one of the league leaders in shots every season, he just flings rubber at the goal whenever he can, which is something the Leafs need right now because Kessel can only do so much on his own. And to your second point, Ive thought about how his return could hurt the “chemistry” that the Leafs have going right now, but theyre all professionals, theyll be fine.

  • Bertly83

    I’m excited to see how Clarkson fits into the lineup/team. He’s a pro, so I don’t think he’ll upset the dynamic that is proving to work so far. He will see where he can contribute and provide experience for the younger ones to grow from.

    Devils games usually bore me, so I don’t know much about him. How is he at faceoffs? Am I crazy for wanting Mats to come back now to join this team? At the least he could give them some faceoff tips.

    This Atlantic division has me nervous though, look at all the points! No one is all that far behind. A lot of strong teams to beat to make top 3 for the playoffs. We can do eet!

    Go Leafs! Go Dangle!