By Chris Perelli
Thirty goals. It’s a Sword of Damacles looming over Leafs right-wing David Clarkson since the day he signed on the dotted line joining the Maple Leafs.
It’s a weight on his shoulders almost as heavy as his seven-year $36.75 million contract. It’s hard to sympathize with a pro-athlete making millions of dollars but the odds were stacked against him from day one.Every fan, employee and player in the National Hockey League (NHL) agrees his contract is extremely lucrative for a player who has only amassed 30 goals, with a career high in points of 46. It looks even worse since he was silenced to 11 points this past season despite the hype surrounding the homecoming of the Mimico native that was beyond words.The fact is, Clarkson has six more years on his deal and for the foreseeable future, this is a problem that the Leafs, and Clarkson himself, have to fix.
The Leafs shot themselves in the foot taking such a large risk on Clarkson as an “easy way out.” The length of his contract makes it immune to buy-out. Ridding themselves of this contract, the Leafs would acquire a $4.7-million cap hit for the next five seasons, and a $466,667 hit until the 2024/25 season. That’s out of the question.To rid themselves of the contract via trade, the Leafs will no doubt have to eat the league max in salary retention, 50 per cent of his 5.25-yearly salary. That leaves them with a $2.5 million savings. However, the Leafs will have to sign another player worth upwards of $4 million a season to get their desired roster spot. His contract forbids the team from burying him in the minors, where they could save $900,000 in cap room.
Clarkson getting his game back, and having a positive effect on this team is the only logical way for the Leafs to walk away winners in this situation.
Last season, it was evident Clarkson was missing an identity on the Leafs’ roster. Not skilled enough to be mentioned with the likes of Kessel, and not brutish enough to tow the line with Colton Orr. He was branded as an in your face player who had an offensive upside, and routinely found himself stuck between the two identities.The season in which Clarkson scored 30 goals with New Jersey, he was on a top line with superstar Ilya Kovalchuk and his role was clear, be a pest, and clean up Kovalchuk’s garbage. His game was simple, retrieve the puck along the boards, create a cycle, and cause trouble in front of the net. That led to many of his 30 goals being “garbage goals.” They don’t ask how they ask how many.
Last season, under intense pressure to live up to his contract he drifted away from his style of play that took him to 30 in the first place. Instead of doing the “dirty work” that brought him success, Clarkson tried to play a skilled game. He couldn’t compete.
“We didn’t bring him in to score 30 goals,” General Manager Dave Nonis said before Clarkson took the ice for his first game. It’s outrageous to think a player with this staggering contract doesn’t have 30 goals in his sights, but perhaps the message was misconstrued.The last things Clarkson needs to worry about this season are his goals and points. His main goal is to get back to the style of play that brought him success. Going to the net, causing trouble along the boards, retrieving pucks. If he does that, 15, 20, and even 30 goals aren’t too far for him.