David Clarkson has started 2014-15 strongly after a nightmarish 2013-14. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
There's no denying David Clarkson's 2013-14 was a nightmare. Was it a THN cover curse? He'll have none of it – and he's fighting back with a stronger start this season.
Do hockey players believe in curses? The easy answer is “Of course not.” An athlete who lets superstitions dictate his game isn’t made for The Show. But if there were ever a player to start believing, could you blame David Clarkson? In the summer of 2013, fresh off landing a seven-year, $36.8-million contract, Clarkson appeared on THN’s cover, postured as Toronto’s next great fan favorite. He grew up a diehard Leafs fan, so he happily posed for the shoot, after which we photoshopped blue blood trickling down his cheek. He was positioned for a season he’d never forget. And while that did come to pass, it wasn’t what he imagined. There was the 10-game suspension to start the year after he left the bench to join a fight during a pre-season game. There was the gruesome elbow gash that cost him eight contests. And there were the slumps. A man expected to chip in 20 to 30 goals gave Toronto five in 60 games. This September, excited to have a blank slate, Clarkson broke his cheekbone in a fight with Buffalo’s Cody McCormick just days before the season started. Ugh. Even the most scientific person would start to wonder about a hex at that point. “It definitely went through my head,” Clarkson said. “It was tough. After hitting that reset button and feeling good this year and doing everything I did over the summer, to break the bone, that wasn’t fun.”
Clarkson, 30, didn’t let the injury get him down, though. Determined to play in Toronto’s home opener after missing last year’s, he donned a full cage (which swapped for a full shield a few games later). “I used it when I was younger,” he said of the cage. “It’s a little different, but if I want to play, I’ve got to wear it. I don’t really have a choice with some of the breaks I have.” Clarkson's breaks are bad – literally and figuratively. And some THN readers believe sinister forces are at play. They’ve written us about a “cover curse,” even suggesting the blue blood pours from the same spot in which Clarkson broke his cheekbone. Not quite true. Clarkson, applying advanced forensics, pointed out that he broke his right one and bled from his left on the cover. And as frustrating as his ride has been, he attributes nothing to a cover curse. “No, no, no, are you kidding me?” he said reassuringly. “That’s funny that you get those letters. As players, we don’t think about it too much. It’s not something you worry about." Even if the curse is real, it appears to be lifting. Clarkson isn't on an epic scoring rampage, but he's been one of the team's most effective forwards in the early going, particularly on the forecheck. He's clicking nicely on a line with Leo Komarov and Mike Santorelli. The Leafs are doing a better job using Clarkson as the Devils did – parking him in front of the net on the power play. Clarkson's 2:54 of power play ice time per game is almost triple his 2013-14 mark of 1:03, albeit the sample size is tiny. If you believe Clarkson's contract is the true curse, he isn't through the woods yet. But he's at least fighting back against that spooky cover.
Update: Eek. The curse isn't gone – it was simply passed to another. Sincere apologies to Mr. Zdeno Chara, who is
out four to six weeks;
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
This is an extended version of a feature that appears in the Nov. 3 Fear Issue of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.