It is amazing how quickly attitude and opinions can change. When David Clarkson signed a 7-year/$36.75 million deal to join the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 5th, I think it is safe to say that the majority of Leafs fans were ecstatic. GM Dave Nonis had landed the top free agent on the market in the eyes of many (including TSN), and many fans had fallen in love with Clarkson before he had even played a game in blue and white. Almost immediately there were comparisons made to former Leafs great Wendel Clark, as Clarkson played an aggressive, hard-hitting style like Clark, plus he could score, having notched 30 goals in New Jersey 2011-12, and another 15 to lead the team in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
Fast forward six months, and the mindset of the majority of Leafs Nation towards Clarkson has changed dramatically. It seems as if everywhere I look in the social media world, especially on Twitter, Leafs fans are tearing Clarkson apart. I have seen claims that he is a “bust” and that the Leafs should find a way to ship him out of Toronto. Even friends and family have turned against #71, including my father who advised me to, “not waste money on a Clarkson jersey.”
The main issue for most fans with Clarkson’s performance revolves around his point production, in that he has only 8 PTS in 31 GP. Many are expecting more out of Clarkson to justify his $5.25 million a year cap hit.
I can understand that people are becoming increasingly impatient with the numbers David is putting on the board, but to want to dispose of him after a mere 31 games is a tad bit irrational.
Lets ask ourselves, is there a reason Clarkson’s numbers are down in Toronto compared to his last two years in New Jersey? A possible explanation could his ice time and who he was playing with as a member of the Devils. Coach Peter DeBoer decided to increase Clarkson’s ice time and power-play minutes in 2011-12, and playing those top line minutes with varying talented line mates such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique, and Zach Parise pushed Clarkson from being an 18 PTS playee in 2010-11, to a 30-goal (8 of which on the PP), 46 PTS player in 2011-12. DeBoer continued to give Clarkson top line minutes in 2013, alongside Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Co., and he continued to produce, leading the team in goals with 15, and power-play goals with 6.
Think about it from this perspective then. Clarkson has gone two seasons playing alongside some excellent play-makers in New Jersey, to having to wait until almost November to step on to the ice due to the 10-game suspension, and for most of his 31 games having had a combination of either Trevor Smith/Mason Raymond or Nikolai Kulemin/Jay McClement as his line mates. Clarkson has gone from being the hard-hitting aggressive sniper in New Jersey, to a new role in Toronto, where he is the one retrieving the puck and creating the play, not to mention he is also playing second or third line minutes.
Though the numbers may not be there to prove it, I think Clarkson has done his job fairly well. He is arguably the best forechecker on the team, and it shows when his line plays the dump and chase. Many times Clarkson has battled for the puck in the opposing end on a dump in, and many times he comes out of those battles with the puck. Usually one of two scenarios plays out when Clarkson winds up with the puck though. A) He protects the puck down low, arguably better than anyone on the team, and tries to create a cycle, only for his line mates, recently Kulemin and McClement, to turn it over. B) He feeds the puck into the slot after outworking a defender, only to have his line mates not be able to capitalize on a scoring chance.
The effort from Clarkson is certainly there. He is still playing that typical Clarkson style of hockey, a physical, gritty, give-it-your-all-every-shift style, but there are parts of his game he has had to re-invent, as I’ve stated above, plus, he is not getting much support from his line mates. These contributing factors may have led to the point decrease in his game. Considering what/who he is working with at the moment, I would say point production aside (and remember, points do not necessarily define a player’s overall game), he has been playing a solid game almost every night.
To all of Leafs Nation, do not give up on David Clarkson just yet. The right line combination in the future could allow his numbers to catch up with his impressive hard-working style of play.
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