It was the morning of the Toronto Maple Leafs 10th game of the season and that could mean only one thing. It was also the last bag skate for David Clarkson ever. Well, maybe not ever.
“I don’t know if it will be my last,” Clarkson said. “But it’s my last skate while I’m suspended, so it feels good. It feels good to get it over with.”
Friday night in Columbus, Clarkson will finally make his debut with the Maple Leafs after signing his seven-year, $36.8 million contract with his hometown team in the summer. It was a contract that immediately had $269,230.80 lopped off the top, which was the fine that accompanied his 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to join a melee against the Buffalo Sabres in the pre-season.
Clarkson said he is looking forward to “getting back into the lineup,” but the reality is that he’ll simply be getting into the lineup for the first time. The Leafs went into Game 10 of the suspension with a very respectable 6-3-0 record, but had some huge gaps in their game that might be addressed by someone of Clarkson’s ilk. After a guy signs a contract as long and for as much money as Clarkson did there will be high expectations. But it’s important to note that expectations often change with this kind of deal, but the player seldom does.
And that’s probably fine with the Maple Leafs, but what should those expectations be? Before breaking out with a 30-goal season two years ago with the New Jersey Devils, Clarkson had not scored even 20 in a season. Best guess is that he’s at least a 20-goal man with the potential to go a little higher, but expecting a string of 30-goal seasons from him might be a little more than he’s capable of giving. But he will provide the Leafs with a strong presence on the right side, with a willingness to drive the net and go to the dirty areas to make plays.
“I think I’ve played long enough in the league that they know what I bring,” said the 29-year-old. “I’m going to go out there and do the same things I did in Jersey and that’s be around the puck, put the puck in the net, finish my checks and be hard to play against. I’m not going to come out here and try to score 40 or 50 goals. I’m going to come and play my game – being around the net, being physical and being good in my own zone. Am I going to make mistakes? A hundred percent, but I’m going to go out there and play hard.”
The Leafs could certainly use a few more forwards with the last quality Clarkson mentioned. The Leafs have been winning – at least until the past two games – despite having enormous gaps in their game, particularly playing in their own end and without the puck. Clarkson will certainly help in that regard and it’s difficult to fathom that putting him in the lineup could be anything other than an upgrade.
What will be interesting is what approach Clarkson now takes to the game. One of the positives is that Clarkson received an automatic suspension rather than one imposed by supplementary discipline. That means he won’t be deemed a repeat offender by the NHL if he ever finds himself in front of Brendan Shanahan for miscreant behavior.
“You look at a player’s entire career, good or bad, and you consider all the factors, but you take them for what they’re worth,” Shanahan said. “I think anyone sitting in this seat would use judgment when it came to a player like David Clarkson.”