Okay, let me get this out of the way right now: no, I do not actually think the David Clarkson contract was good. It’s not only one of the worst contracts the Leafs have ever signed, it’s arguable one of the worst contracts ever signed, especially in the cap era, and it was pretty obvious that it was going to be, if you were smart enough.
Well, I was not one of those smart people. Let me put you in the mindset of 16 year-old Scott. I was sitting on the couch watching TSN’s Free Agent Frenzy program, excited to see what big names the Leafs would get in free agency fresh off their playoff appearance, and almost beating the Boston Bruins in the first round. They had just lost Grabovski and MacArthur, but also traded for Dave Bolland, who just scored the Stanley Cup winning goal.
The dream, of course, was David Clarkson. Clarkson seemed to be the ideal Toronto Maple Leaf: tough, gritty, and coming off of seasons of 30 goals and 15 in the lockout shortened season (which was a 25 goal pace). Oh, he was also from Toronto, and a born and raised Leafs fan.
And it seemed too good to be true when he did sign with us. Sure, the cap hit and term was a bit much, but he was a Toronto Maple Leaf, and we were going to go far with him.
What an idiot that guy was, huh?
Unbeknownst to most Leafs fans, Clarkson was benefitting from a 13.1% shooting percentage in his 30 goal season, and had 8 of those goals playing on a power play with prime Parise and Kovalchuk. While he was more than capable of playing at the NHL level and chipping in a good 10-15 goals a season, he was not the player the Leafs thought they were signing to a $5.25 million contract for seven years.
Of course, you all know that. I don’t think there’s a single Leafs fan that will defend the Clarkson contract at this point (but you guys like to surprise me). And while the contract and Clarkson’s career as a Leaf was a disaster, the long term effects of the signing actually helped the Leafs.
First off, there was the effects it had in the first season. Clarkson probably had the worst start possible, not just because he only scored five goals and six assists in 60 games, but because he also got himself suspended for the first 10 games of the season because he left the bench during a fight in the preseason (remember, when John Scott tried to fight Phil Kessel, and we ended up seeing Jonathan Bernier scrap with Ryan Miller?).
Well, if that season doesn’t happen like that, the Leafs probably don’t draft 8th overall, and get William Nylander. And that’s not an exaggeration, the reason they picked 8th and not 9th is because they scored 15 less/allowed 15 more goals than the Winnipeg Jets. And if that’s the case, they might have Nikolaj Ehlers or Nick Ritchie instead of Nylander (although Ehlers is perfectly fine in his place, it’s just different, you know).
And it’s not only the draft: that disaster of a season doesn’t happen, and the likely don’t hire Brendan Shanahan, who in turn sees the flaws of the Leafs management, fires Nonis and Carlyle, and hires Dubas, Lamoriello, and Babcock (who the latter two had their flaws, but did help turn the franchise around).
And all those moves then lead to the Leafs actually committing to a rebuild, and sucking for a few seasons, getting us Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, and thus creating the team we know and love today.
There’s also the impact that it had on a lot of Leafs fans, and even hockey fans in general. The Clarkson signing created one of the biggest divides in the analytics war, but also probably drew a lot of people in in the aftermath, including myself.
I was one of those guys with my fingers in my ears, talking about how Corsi sucked because the Leafs were winning in spite of it. And then the Leafs lost 12 of their last 14 (all in regulation too), and missed the playoffs, and I decided that maybe the analytics people were right, and I decided to learn a thing or two. This was honestly one of the first times in my life where I admitted I was wrong and learned to improve myself.
Seven years ago, I was telling blogs like the Leafs Nation that they were wrong and dumb, and now I’m writing for one of them, constantly being told I’m wrong and dumb. Who would’ve thought?
This is all easy to say in hindsight because of how easily the Leafs got rid of the Clarkson contract with no repercussions. Heck, they even traded back for it this year it, and it supposedly helped them, although I still don’t really know how.
But, while the contract itself is embarrassingly bad, it started a chain reaction of events that both impacted myself and the Leafs franchise for the better, and that’s why I’ll say that the Clarkson contract was actually good.
And we even learned our lesson about bringing in born and raised Leafs fans on expensive, long term deals.