After an extremely disappointing inaugural season with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, neither David Clarkson, nor fans of the Maple Leafs need to be reminded of just how bad it was. By now, we are all probably sick of hearing about it to be honest.
We all agree that David Clarkson‘s contract is an albatross by many standards. Especially when you consider that he got paid a cool $477,454 per point last season – definitely not the greatest ROI (return on investment) by any means.
But the bottom line is that we all know David Clarkson struggled mightily last season. We get that.
So instead of continuing to beat down what David Clarkson already is, let’s look into how Clarkson could actually help the Toronto Maple Leafs this upcoming season.
When analyzing Clarkson from a statistical standpoint, you might be surprised to see a player that actually still does a few things well – particularly in the advanced statistics department.
Although a lot of Clarkson’s work does not show up on the box score, he does help his teammates start in an offensive position more often than not. While last seasons stats may not reflect that notion entirely, his career averages do create reason for optimism this upcoming season.
Mar 23, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing David Clarkson (71) before the game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
One of Clarkson’s most heralded attributes coming over from New Jersey was his shooting percentage. As a career 9 percent shooter (meaning he scores on 9 percent of the shots he takes), Clarkson was widely considered a valuable player that was not only tough to play against, but also capable of adding some secondary scoring each season.
While his shooting percentage was well above average and bound to regress, it was really Clarkson’s propensity to shoot the puck and drive to the net that made him an intriguing player. But last season, Clarkson got away from both of those attributes. Clarkson averaged a minuscule 1.7 shots a game, a far cry from the 2.85 shots a game he averaged in New Jersey the three seasons before.
You could make a case for a variety of reasons about why his shooting numbers declined, but for a player that drives to the net like Clarkson, his ability to shoot the puck matters greatly. An additional shot or two a night would help create scoring chances for both Clarkson and his teammates. If he can increase that number by the slightest of margins this year, it would be a boost to a Leafs team that is out shot on a consistent basis.
The added benefit of Clarkson shooting the puck at a steady rate, is that Clarkson tends to generate above average zone start’s for his teammates, as he finishes a fair amount of his shifts in the opposing teams zone. Clarkson’s ability to finish shifts in the offensive zone has been an underrated quality of his for years. Although Clarkson has generally started half of his shifts in the offensive zone, he has consistently been able to finish half of those shifts in the offensive zone as well.
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So why do these numbers matter?
For a player like Clarkson, his role on the ice is not to go out and score 30-goals a season – contrary to popular belief. It’s to go out and be a two-way player that is tough to play against on a shift-to-shift basis. Clarkson’s ability to finish the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone indicates to us that he is still capable of being a tough player for opponents to play against.
By finishing in the opposing zone, Clarkson is creating opportunities for either an offensive zone face-off, or a change on the fly that would allow top line players like Phil Kessel or James van Riemsdyk to come on the ice in an attacking position. While this may not be a highlight of the game, it is something that greatly matters on a shift-to-shift basis throughout an entire year.
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Take a player like Dwight King for example. He finished over 54% of his shifts in the offensive zone last season according to Behind the Net, ranking among the league’s top 30 in this category. While King doesn’t score a lot of points, his ability to finish shifts in the other teams zone helps set up scoring chances for the rest of the team.
If Clarkson can get back to finishing shifts in the opponents offensive zone like he did in New Jersey, he could really help bolster not only Toronto’s scoring chances, but their overall puck possession play.
A great compliment to Clarkson’s offensive game in New Jersey, was his ability to draw penalties. Although it was a skill that severely declined with the Leafs last season, it is something that Clarkson could easily re-acquaint himself with this year.
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Dec 27, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing David Clarkson (71) battles for positioning in front of the net against Buffalo Sabres defensemanMark Pysyk
(3) at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Sabres 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
The drop off in Clarkson’s penalties drawn last season was beyond regression to the mean, it was flat-out “a falling off of a cliff” like drop. I would be shocked if that number sustained this season.
Let’s say worst case scenario Clarkson finishes with an even ratio of penalties taken and drawn this season at his average mark of one penalty per 60 minutes. That is still a full extra minute of power play time for the Leafs power play. Again, one of Clarkson’s best attributes may not show on the box score, but it is a valuable skill that would allow the top line more scoring opportunities.
Not to deter from one of Clarkson’s main strengths here, but once again, his propensity to shoot the puck on net does help his overall cause, particularly on the power play, somewhere Clarkson was misused last year. On the power play, Clarkson spent most of his time parked in front of the net.
While the easy assumption on Clarkson is that his big body would help create traffic in front of the net, it actually makes him a stationary player and negates his best asset in my opinion. That would be his ability to clean up and score goals around the net.
Over the last three years, Clarkson has scored 15 power play goals. Of those 15 goals, he has tipped in only 2 of those 15 goals, but on average scores his power play goals from 14.26 feet. While the tip-in’s may not be there, his average goal distance indicates to us that he cleans up around the net very well. In other words, while many coaches hate this style of play, Clarkson is best suited as a “floater” on the power play.
I’m not saying that Clarkson should play on the Leafs first power play unit by any means – I actually think Toronto does well in that department – but, if Clarkson is going to be used on the power play, using him in a non-stationary like role would best suit his skill set.
While many fans may not like seeing a player like Clarkson get paid what he does, for the output he provides. His skill set can be a useful one that helps a team win hockey games over the long haul. Look at players like Dwight King and Scott Hartnell. Their ability to play a physical style of play, gives their respective teams more chances in the offensive zone on a game-to-game basis.
Sure they don’t get paid what Clarkson does, but by now, we all agree that Clarkson’s contract was an egregious signing. I’m not saying he is worth the money by any means, nor am I saying that zone starts are the be all end all. What I am saying, is that Clarkson does still possess some skills that could help the Toronto Maple Leafs win a few hockey games this upcoming season.