David Clarkson needs to score


While David Clarkson was in the middle of his 10-game suspension, I wrote about how it could actually be a blessing in disguise. The Leafs were near the top of the conference and the league, and had won almost every game to that point. The headlines were all about Reimer vs. Bernier, Bolland’s hot start, and MayRay-mania. The crazy hype surrounding Clarkson had subsided.

Now a few injuries later and with a 5-5-0 record in the last 10 games, things have changed.

David Clarkson has yet to score a goal. He’s got just one point (an assist) in seven regular season games as a Leaf.

Now, there are a number of reasons for why Clarkson hasn’t had the best start to his Leaf career so far. A 10-game suspension with a new team makes it hard to build any on-ice chemistry with anybody. Then there’s that little chestnut of Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland being out with long-term injuries. As soon as Clarkson was signed, I wanted to see him playing with Kadri and Lupul, but Toronto’s new top line of Lupul, JVR, and Kessel has put that dream on hiatus.  

Before I go any further, this post isn’t meant to make excuses for David Clarkson. It also isn’t meant to trash the guy. Here’s the long and short of it…

David Clarkson is in the first year of a seven-year deal that pays him $5.25 million per season. A couple of his cap hit comparables are Joffrey Lupul and David Krejci. Is David Clarkson the same style of player as those two guys? No, of course not, but when you start making that kind of cash, you’re expected to overcome the odds a bit. 

Clarkson is now in an echelon of players that are counted on, not coddled. While the odds are currently stacked against him, he now makes the kind of money where the expectation is that he finds a way to overcome them. Nobody pats Marian Hossa on the back when he’s on a slump ($5.275 million cap hit). Nobody says "give him a break" when Jeff Carter stops producing ($5.272 million cap hit). Nobody sheds a tear for Bobby Ryan if he goes seven games without a goal, especially in a Canadian market ($5.1 million cap hit). David Clarkson is now making difference-maker money. He needs to be just that: A difference-maker.

This isn’t meant to slam Clarkson. I’m certainly not saying his struggles have been for lack of effort. Clarkson looks like he’s trying. The play leading to his one assist on the Mason Raymond goal in Calgary was brilliant. His willingness to go with Jarome Iginla to try to spark his team against Boston was admirable. I’m not accusing Clarkson of dogging it by any means. The effort is there, but the results are not.

Perhaps the Leafs need to put Clarkson in a better position to succeed. Maybe Mason Raymond should be bumped up with JVR and Kessel while Lupul drops down with Kadri and Clarkson. Maybe this, maybe that. All I’m saying is that with the kind of money Clarkson is making, there come expectations.

At the moment, most fans are still giving Clarkson the benefit of the doubt. He’s only played seven games so far, and the Leafs currently have a winning record. All is well in paradise for now.

But if the Leafs go south and Clarkson isn’t there to save them, the paper bag-wearing, waffle-throwing villagers around here tend to get a little restless.

Who knows? Maybe Clarkson will score his first as a Leaf tonight against Minnesota. Click here for our preview of tonight’s game.


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  • davelevitz

    I agree with you on one point — the Leafs did overpay for Clarkson. He is an overachiever who was likely motivated by the big contract he knew he could earn. When you sign a player like that to a max-length deal, you have to be concerned about his motivation. We saw this with Brad Richards, who literally needed to be humiliated by the New York media and his coach in order to get back to an All-Star level. The difference with Clarkson is that he is not an All-Star talent like Richards was. He is a good, solid player who spent the early part of his career primarily as an agitator and then suddenly started to score.

    Clarkson was a coveted free agent in a very weak year for free agency. As a result, he found the team that was willing to give him the most money. And that, in itself, is a bad sign with any player, because it suggests he is more interested in getting rich than winning.


    • I honestly don’t think it’s for lack of effort. Has he been playing well? No. Has he been playing hard? I think so. For the money he’s getting, he needs to play both, and there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

    • Jeremy Ian

      He didn’t take the most money he could edmonton offered him notably more but he chose to play in TO because he was from here and it was a dream of his, to suggest he’s putting in anything other than 100% is IMO completely untrue and unfair, i think every one of these guys puts in 100% every night and him maybe even more so. He’s played tough and hard every game, he isn’t a slouch but he also isn’t a Jeff Carter or a Bobby Ryian but to fault him on effort is entirely unfair.

  • davelevitz

    To be honest I haven’t been very impressed with Clarkson so far this year. I wasn’t thrilled when the Leafs signed him in the first place. I think at best Clarkson is a third line player. Not to knock him because he is a good player but I just think they way over paid him. So far this year he has made one stupid decision that cost him 10 games and in the subsequent 7 games he has had some good moments but they are few and far between. Most games he has a couple of good shifts then is barely noticeable for the rest of the game.

    Clarkson is a much better player than Komisarek is but so far this year his play is starting to remind me of Komi. He is trying to hard to justify his pay cheque right now. I hope he gets it sorted out.

    • Like I said, it’s a combination of things. I’d still love to see that Clarkson-Kadri-Lupul line. All I know is with or without the proper linemates, he’s gotta find a way to turn it up. You don’t pay $5.25 for a grinder. The question is, is it the Leafs misusing him or Clarkson playing poorly.

      • Carlyle is not using Clarkson like a top 6 player. How is he to have success when playing with line mates such as McClemment and Ashton? And never getting much power play time? They are not using him properly in my opinion!

  • “You don’t pay $5.25 for a grinder. The question is, is it the Leafs misusing him or Clarkson playing poorly.”

    That becomes the question doesn’t it? I think the Leafs did pay $5.25 for a grinder. A very good grinder but a grinder none the less.

    Even going back to last year after his hot start of 10 goals in 15 games he went back to his historical level of goal scoring for the remainder of the year. So for one excellent year and roughly 10 games the Leafs paid him a lot of money. I’m not knocking David Clarkson but the guy is a third line player who is capable of 15 goals a year maybe 20 if things go right. He will never come close to 30 again and I am highly skeptical he will hit 25 again.

    As for power play time who exactly comes off for him to play more? When the Leafs are healthy he is at best the 6th best option for offense.

    I don’t think the Leafs are misusing him and I don’t think Clarkson is playing poorly. He has been a bit snake bitten about his points this year but I think with Clarkson this is what you get. He tries hard and is willing.

  • The problem I have with this line of thought is that anytime 3 lines were getting hemmed in their own zone, the Clarkson line would come out (seemingly all the time) and create a good fore check for the Leafs to build some confidence on.

    I still believe in Clarksons ability.

  • Dangle,

    Tsk tsk tsk. I usually like your work but I think you maybe off here so please consider this.

    Clarkson is generating positive net shots towards the opposition goal relative to any other leaf.
    His CF% close is 51.5% and with Corsi Rel of
    +16.0% And so Clarkson is clearly skilled and outperforming at generating shots attempts (and likely scoring chances) for the leafs. The stats don’t support he is slacking or working on the ice.

    The second part of the equation is his SH% is 1.5% (with a PDO of 96.3%). The last five years he has scored at a rate of 7.41% so he is clearly not “scoring”. But like when Kessel was struggling last year and not scoring (but was still generating shots attempts) it is only a matter of time before the goals come.

    Yes he needs to score and yes they will come.

  • The goals will come eventually if he keeps plugging away working hard he’ll get his reward, in saying that I don’t think he is ever going to hit 30 again I hope i’m wrong. I personally think that money would have been better spent keeping either MacArthur or Komarov and they would have been way cheaper.

  • I blame the suspension, the guy really looks hungry for goals he’s just a couple steps behind after missing the first ten games.

    I’m not going to say that he’s overpaid just yet, but you’re right that if this continues it sure looks that way.

  • Jeremy Ian

    This were the practice line-ups:

    Raymond – JvR- Kessel,

    Lupul – Kadri – Kulemin,

    Ashton – McClement – Clarkson,

    McLaren – Smithson – Orr

    For the money, switch Kulemin and Clarkson. Why debase your investment before you know its worth?

    (The fourth line is just sad.)

    But herein lies a partial explanation for Clarkson’s issues.

    The rest is on him. He has to find a way to muscle his way back onto the second line where he belongs.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Clarksson is a great grinder/powerforward type of player. he definitely plays with heart and emotion, but I don’t think he has the best hands. his shot is ok, but his stick handling is sub par. that is why he will score goals, aggitate and work the corners, but his point production will be hampered by his not so great hands. for like 4 mil this is a good deal, but you have to pay to win. he can play up and down the line up and may prove valuable in the playoffs. him, bolland and kulimen would make an extremely effective and formidable third line, at the same time he could play with kadri and lupul on the second. a pretty effective player if you ask me, another vital cog in the machine

  • Jeremy Ian

    Clarkson had a good season and a half and the contract Toronto gave him was based off of that time period. Before his 30 goal season with the Devils, his career high was 17 goals. He is a third line grinder, and Toronto overpaid him. However, I fully believe given the right linemates, he could easily get back to that 30 goal season. I could see him averaging mid 20s to mid 30s for the duration of his Toronto contract, given the right players.

    He has a lot of heart and is one of the most motivated players you can ask for (and a very respectable guy outside the rink) but heart and motivation only go so far. I don’t think he played well enough consistently enough to earn the pay Toronto is giving him, and I think that’s a big reason New Jersey didn’t match.

    “Clarkson was a coveted free agent in a very weak year for free agency. As a result, he found the team that was willing to give him the most money. And that, in itself, is a bad sign with any player, because it suggests he is more interested in getting rich than winning.”

    I disagree with this. I’m a Devils fan, and we all knew that no matter what the price, if Toronto offered, he’d go. He’s from there, and it’s no secret that it was his favorite team growing up. My theory is we offered him his worth and Toronto topped that. Putting myself in his shoes, his decision was a pretty easy one. A chance to play for the team you idolized growing up? AND for more money? He’d be stupid NOT to sign.

  • STAN

    Wow. I believe i saw the words GREAT and CLARKSON used in the same sentence. He’s not GREAT at anything. Solid, mostly dependable, YES, but as a checking third liner.

    Folks seem to forget that most of his goals in New jersey were scored on the power play with the likes of Elias and Kovalchuk.

    This signing could be the one that sees Nonis driven out of town after three years. Money seems to be no object for MLSE, so they can pay him for two years to watch the games from a beach in Florida.

    Speaking of wasted money, Raymond playing with Grabovski would have been brilliant, speed to burn, speed that can be the equalizer when you lose the puck or get caught out of position. Right now the Leafs don’t have enough speed or desire for the puck (see Kessel, Lupul, JvR.)

  • STAN

    Clarkson is reverting to the mean (or worse). Look – the Leafs paid too much for him for too long in a soft year for free agents. Only way to justify the cost is that he plays big in the playoffs. Being from Calgary Daryl Sutter did lots of these bad deals based on limited player viewings – but we didn’t get to the playoffs!