When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed David Clarkson this past summer they likely expected him to produce more than he has, but they still shouldn’t be concerned with how poorly his first season in blue and white has gone.
Clarkson returned recently to join the Maple Leafs on a two-game road trip to Florida after not playing since Jan. 15. The media and mostly the fans have begun to point to Clarkson as being one of the team’s worst players given his lack of offensive production and Toronto’s winning record without Clarkson in the lineup. However, in the two games Clarkson has played since returning from injury, he’s shown flashes of why the Maple Leafs agreed to give him $5.25 million in each of the next seven seasons.
Clarkson scored Toronto’s only goal in a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers and was one of the team’s better forwards for the majority of the night. His energy and physical play was obvious early, but it cost Clarkson as he took a penalty that resulted in Florida’s opening goal of the contest. After the tough start with the penalty, Clarkson settled down and found a better balance of playing physical without going overboard. He finished the game with seven hits, his second highest total this season, and he was also one of the few Maple Leafs who managed to avoid a minus rating in the embarrassing loss.
Two nights later Clarkson followed up his performance against the Panthers with another strong showing versus the Tampa Bay Lightning. For the second game in a row Clarkson was one of Toronto’s better players on the ice, this time in a 4-1 victory over the Lightning. He played nearly three more minutes than he had against Florida while recording an assist and finishing the game with a plus-one rating.
Once again Clarkson’s energy and physical play was noticeable early-on against the Lightning, however, the winger did a better job of playing on the edge without crossing it. Clarkson has gotten into trouble multiple times this year by committing bad penalties as a result of being overly physical or careless on the ice. His season couldn’t have started any worse with a 10-game suspension for jumping off the bench and onto the ice during a fight. Clarkson wants to be known as a player who sticks up for his teammates with his physical play, but he still hasn’t found the right balance of being physical without being penalized for it.
He couldn’t have had a worse start to his Maple Leaf career as suspensions and injuries have made it tough for Clarkson to grow comfortable in Toronto. However, in his first two games since returning Clarkson has shown the type of physical play and offensive output the Maple Leafs thought they were acquiring. If Clarkson can build off these recent performances while putting the distractions of his contract and the suspensions behind him, he could use the time after the Olympic break to completely turn around his first season in Toronto.