I won’t take anything away from right wing David Clarkson. When he deploys his A-game, Clarkson is a rugged power forward with tons of offensive upside, the type of player any team would want. With that said, I cannot put enough emphasis on the wording of that previous sentence, more particularly, the first five words of it, an allusion to the glaring shortcomings that have materialized in Clarkson’s track record throughout his six-year career with the Devils.
Clarkson demonstrated the utmost effectiveness of him being at the top of his game during the 2011-2012 season and the first quarter or so of the 2012-2013 season. In addition to establishing career-highs in goals (30) and points (46) in 11-12, Clarkson was one of the hottest players through the first 14 games of the Devil’s 12-13 campaign, during which he collected ten goals, giving him 40 goals over a span of 94 games.
The David Clarkson that may arguably be worth his present demands as an upcoming unrestricted free agent (presumed to be $42 million over seven years) revealed himself during this span. With that said, Clarkson has exhibited some well-documented inconsistencies that makes his uncertain future with the Devils seem like a blessing in disguise from a salary cap and expectation-related perspective.
It can be agreed that Clarkson established himself as a regular top-nine forward during the 2008-2009 season when he accumulated totals of 17 goals and 32 points in 82 games. Since then, Clarkson has gone through eight stretches where he failed to register a goal in nine or more consecutive games (this excludes the 09-10 season, during which he missed a considerable amount of time due to injury).
Although the majority of these slumps occurred before the 11-12 season, his turbulent track record ought to provide indication on how Clarkson and his agent Pat Morris are most likely to be primarily determining Clarkson’s value based off the last 128 games he’s played in the NHL…out of 426. You can argue that Clarkson’s numbers suffered on the count of the Devil’s disastrous “fluke” season in 2010-2011. Clarkson was one of the few players on the team that eluded the injury bug outbreak in the locker room that year and had every opportunity all season to step up the way Ilya Kovalchuk did during the second half.
Aside from Clarkson’s streaky tendencies to score goals and his shifty physicality in his game, you have to think there is more to the figuring behind Clarkson’s questionably high contract demands. Clarkson enters a relatively shallow unrestricted free agent class that features other forwards such as Nathan Horton, Jaroma Iginla, Ryan Clowe, Danny Briere, Stephen Weiss, and Viktor Stalberg, just to mention a few. While Clarkson is not the most skilled of that group, he is advantageously one of the most desirable.
Aside from the two main features of his game that I have mentioned multiple times in this piece (scoring ability, physicality), attributes that most of this year’s top unrestricted free agents separately possess, Clarkson possesses an additional third attribute that will make him a highly desirable target by teams…
Clarkson is at an age (29) where his development has come to fruition. In an age range where players have entered or are in the midst of the prime of their hockey careers, Clarkson still has many years left where he can be relied upon to regularly fulfill his role. The logic behind a team signing him to the seven-year deal he supposedly wants is they’ll be securing Clarkson during the remaining years he has a reliable and effective player. The money he receives is a result of Clarkson standing out in a relatively shallow market (just to reiterate).
Wherever Clarkson ends up, his performance (particularly his consistency) will undoubtedly be placed under a microscope. At this point we can only speculate and if his 12-13 performance is any indication, we now know to take any explosive starts to the coming season with a grain of salt.