The Toronto Maple Leafs made a bold move on the first day of free agency, committing a big-money, long-term contract to a player who provides a rare combination of goal-scoring and toughness.
Numbers Game examines the Leafs signing David Clarkson.
The Maple Leafs Get: RW David Clarkson.
Clarkson, 29, was one of the most-coveted free agents on the market, having scored 45 goals and accruing 216 penalty minutes in 128 games over the last two seasons. He's also had very strong puck possession stats over the last couple years too.
An undrafted winger, who played for Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League, Clarkson has fought his way into a significant NHL career, fighting 76 times in six NHL seasons (though only 13 in the last two years) and played a career-high 17:36 per game last season.
Clarkson has also been durable. Aside from 2009-2010, when he missed 36 games with a broken fibula, he hasn't missed more than two games in any of his other five NHL seasons. If that durability is an indication that he might have the longevity to be productive into his mid-30s (and I have no idea if it is), that would work in the Leafs' favour.
In Toronto, Clarkson is getting paid to be a scorer. Sure, he'll be expected to fight because that fits with the Leafs' plan of attack under Carlyle, and with Clarkson's track record, but at seven years and $36.75-million (a $5.25-million cap hit), Clarkson needs to be a productive offensive player.
Clarkson did generate a career-best 3.75 shots on goal last season, which ranked eighth in the league, while playing primarily with Patrik Elias (and either Travis Zajac or Adam Henrique down the middle).
His game isn't based on his creating chances by carrying the puck like, say, Phil Kessel, rather Clarkson is a guy who gets his nose dirty and gets to the front of the net for his chances, so if he's going to make the most of his opportunity in Toronto, Clarkson would benefit from playing with players like Joffrey Lupul or Nazem Kadri, who handle the puck more frequently. There could be real trouble if Clarkson doesn't have sufficient puckhandlers/playmakers skating with him.
In the short-term, the Maple Leafs are better by adding Clarkson to their team, but the question is how long he can remain a productive offensive player. After all, Clarkson has scored more than 32 points just once in his career. The last three years or so of his contract, when he'll be 33-to-35-years-old, are high risk because if Clarkson isn't scoring enough to be top-six forward at that point of his career, he'll still be getting paid a premium rate; too much for just a physical presence.
New Jersey, in response to losing Clarkson, signed Ryane Clowe, another forward who has toughness and offensive ability, giving the Devils have some options to round out their top six forwards.
The Maple Leafs have set a certain identity under head coach Randy Carlyle and that is a physical team that will fight and score, so while Clarkson had appeal to many teams, he was obviously extra-appealing to a team that plays that style.
It's hard to imagine the deal being good value in the long run, but if Clarkson is a fiery leader who scores 25 goals a season for the next four or five years, they may be able to live with a couple of years with less than ideal value at the end.