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.
@Steve_Dangle Beaut, and wow, game 11 will be nuts. McLaren and Clarkson will really jostle the lineup. Koolaid should be close then too.
— KD Spread (@Capital_Blues) October 14, 2013
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..