The Impending David Clarkson Free Agency Dilemma for the New Jersey Devils

By Mark Donatiello

David Clarkson was once known for little more than fighting Sean Avery of the New York Rangers.  Before his breakout 30-goal season last year, Clarkson had never scored more than 17 goals or tallied more than 32 points in a season.  However, with Zach Parise signing in Minnesota, David Clarkson appears to be one of the best remaining offensive weapons on the New Jersey Devils.  In his upcoming contract year, Clarkson could see top-line minutes and is a legitimate top-six forward.

The transformation of David Clarkson from a Sean Avery specialist and grinder into a legitimate scoring threat played a major role in last season’s Stanley Cup run.  30 goals from Clarkson was one of the more pleasant surprises in the NHL last year.  Only 30 players reached the 30-goal mark in the NHL last season, with only 24 players scoring more goals than David Clarkson.  It was a truly remarkable season from the 28-year-old winger.

Clarkson’s contract as an enforcer is a modest 2.67 million dollars per season.  In a contract year, Clarkson appears poised to make significantly more money if he can replicate the offensive production of last season.  Will the New Jersey Devils be able to sign David Clarkson if he produces anywhere near the same scoring numbers as last season?

The NHL is willing to overpay for scoring.  Rick Nash had the same 30 goals that David Clarkson scored last season and makes 7.8 million dollars per year.    Patrick Marleau, another 30-goal scorer, made 6.9 million dollars last season.  In fact, of the six players who scored exactly 30-goals last year, only David Clarkson and Evander Kane made less than five million dollars (Kane, 21, was on an entry-level contract).  If Clarkson puts together another successful season he could be in line for a significant pay raise on the open market.  The New Jersey Devils will not overpay for David Clarkson, even if he finds his way to the top line in 2012-13.  Unfortunately for New Jersey, if Clarkson is able to score 30 goals again he will surely be in line for a big contract from a team desperate for scoring.

Clarkson will be 29 next season and had the fewest assists of any of the top 30 goal-scorers in the NHL – and by a large margin.  He’s not worth a big contract and the Devils will not offer him one.  Additionally, the New Jersey Devils have widely publicized financial issues that may cripple roster moves.  As such,  I fear that David Clarkson may not be long for New Jersey.  Perhaps his production levels off next season and his 30-goal season will prove to be little more than a happy accident during the magical 2011-12 season.  If Clarkson comes back to earth, we could see him stay with the New Jersey Devils at a reasonable price.

If David Clarkson has another solid season, however, I think he’ll be playing elsewhere for a significant pay raise.

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