David Clarkson seemed like the perfect fit for the New Jersey Devils. He was hard-nosed. He wasn’t afraid to fight. He would stick up for his teammates. He scored dirty goals, and plenty of them. He was a two-way forward. He was everything you could possibly want in a forward.
So why did the Devils let him go so easily this offseason?
It seemed like Lou Lamoriello and the Devils’ management planned for life without Clarkson before he did. During his press conference, he said that the Devils were one of the last two in the mix along with the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom he signed with. He was surprised to hear that the Devils claimed they were out of the race days prior. It seems like the Devils felt there were flaws in Clarkson that were not worth the kind of contract that he was asking for.
The Devils decided to take a risk on Ryane Clowe, who plays a Clarkson-type game. They took a chance on a guy who scored three goals last season and has been injury prone in the past. Did they do it to save $400,000? That seems to be hard to believe.
Clarkson made a boneheaded move on Sunday when he left the bench during a brawl. In the NHL, leaving the bench during any fight leads to an automatic 10-game suspension. The fight itself was out of control and idiotic, but Clarkson’s move was by far the dumbest. It is understood that he was sticking up for the Leafs’ best player Phil Kessel, but now he can’t stick up for anybody.
He now has to miss the first 10 games as a Maple Leafs player, and it will prolong his homecoming — not to mention the fact that he will be losing almost $500,000 by missing those games. It is his decision-making that is starting to make this contract questionable.
When Ilya Kovalchuk went down with a shoulder injury last season, Clarkson tried to shoulder the load. Usually that is a good thing, but not when a grinder tries to dangle and shoot every time. His shooting percentage went down from 13.2 percent in 2011-12 to 8.3 in 2013. His mindset seems to change at the drop of a hat. He is the J.R. Smith of hockey. Even if what he is doing isn’t working, he would much rather try it until it does than try to change it up.
It was widely believed that Clarkson wanted to go home anyway. He was given the big contract he believed he deserves. Now, he will lose close to half a million dollars which doesn’t come off of the Maple Leafs’ cap. Lamoriello, like every GM ever, has made his mistakes. With his decision to pass on Clarkson, he shows he has learned from them.
Clarkson is in Toronto for the next seven years. He needs to stop doing certain things and feeding off his impulses if he wants to go down like the great players he grew up watching.