If somebody would have told Toronto Maple Leaf fans their team would be 7-3 after David Clarkson’s 10-game suspension, they would have taken that record and ran without hesitation.
When Clarkson was first suspended after jumping off the bench during the John Scott–Phil Kessel preseason fiasco, fans feared the worst.
After all, Clarkson was Toronto’s big name free-agent acquisition entering the new season. He was arguably the best forward available on the free-agent market this past summer, which is why the Maple Leafs gave him $36.75 million over the next seven years on the first day of free agency.
Clarkson wanted to play in his hometown of Toronto. Fans were excited about what the 6-foot-1 forward would provide the team. Then a brain cramp by Clarkson delayed his Maple Leaf debut and suddenly a recipe for disaster was forming. If Toronto got off to a bad start to the season, struggling to put the puck in the net, Clarkson would have been blasted by the media for his poor decision making.
Now, with the Maple Leafs owning a 7-3 record, inserting Clarkson into the lineup will provide the team with a significant boost. Toronto is about to place a 29-year-old, former 30-goal scorer, into their lineup, and it’s a safe bet the rest of the league will take notice. Adding Clarkson’s physicality will instantly make the Maple Leafs that much harder to play against. His willingness to stand in front of the net will drive opposing goaltenders crazy. His scoring ability will also add another option to the already offensively loaded group featuring Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Reimsdyk and Nazem Kadri.
When Clarkson does lace-up for Toronto, he will need to avoid the desire to make up for the 10 games he lost. No doubt, he’ll want to hit everything that moves and provide the type of impact he was signed to give the team. Unfortunately, Clarkson can’t try to do too much or it’ll risk hurting his individual performance and the team’s. He’s on a new team with a big new contract, and the temptation to try and make up for lost time in one or two games will be staring him in the face. He needs to put the suspension behind him and try to ease into the new season by getting his feet wet as opposed to jumping into the deep-end of the pool.
The great thing for Clarkson is he isn’t entering the season with a boatload of pressure on his shoulders thanks to the team’s strong start. He doesn’t need to score right away in an attempt to get the team back on track. All he needs to do is fit in.
Clarkson will have plenty of time to fit in given how many of his teammates have started their season. Kessel and van Reimsdyk are not only providing Toronto with a dangerous line alongside Tyler Bozak, but the duo look like they could be an explosive pair for Team USA at the Olympics. Lupul has been the team’s most consistent forward all season. Meanwhile, Kadri has eight points in ten games, proving he can be depended on to provide offense.
With no shortage of goal scorers, the Maple Leafs will be adding another one to their lineup. Perhaps even more important than his goal-scoring ability is Clarkson’s physical play and intimidating presence on the ice. If Toronto’s opposition didn’t think they had enough to worry about already, they will the moment Clarkson steps onto the ice wearing blue and white for the first time this season.