David Clarkson officially ended his stint with the New Jersey Devils today by signing a free agent contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The former Devils forward signed a 7 year contract worth $36 million with an average salary “cap hit” figure of $5.25 million (www.si.com).
Clarkson is originally from the Toronto area, so the rumor circulating throughout the media was that both sides were mutually interested and that the Maple Leafs were likely his next landing spot. He spent his entire NHL career in New Jersey, and was well liked by most fans, and others I know liked him but got frustrated with his play at points. The negotiations with the Devils had not gone well earlier this week that was widely reported in the media, Clarkson did have interest from the Edmonton Oilers as well according to various sources.
My colleague, David Garrison, wrote an excellent article on what David Clarkson meant to the Devils organization and the community in New Jersey, and I echo those sentiments. Clarkson will be missed by both the team and the fans.
Reaction to the contract
My reaction to the contract with Toronto was surprise, not that he joined the Maple Leafs, but with the length of the contract. I thought Clarkson would get a 5 or a 6 year deal at the maximum. I know he is still 29 years old, but the 7 year deal is a long term to be locked into with a guy that just broke out as a scorer 2 seasons ago. What if he does not score like a top six forward?
Any player that is making $5 million or more per year, it is not to be what is known as a “grinder”. The expectation from this contract clearly is that Toronto needs him to score goals. What if the scouting reports I have read on Clarkson are right which state that other teams had figured out how to defend against him scoring? Then Toronto has just invested over a very long period of time in something that could backfire on them.
The Maple Leafs were busy today also signing Tyler Bozak to a contract extension, he is a forward on their fourth line (www.si.com).
The Devils reaction
The Devils reacted to the news of Clarkson leaving with some very aggressive free agency activity. They signed forwards Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder to contracts today which will effectively replace the attributes which Clarkson contributed to the team. The signing of Ryder should help fix the scoring crunch which plagued the Devils for long stretches of last year. The addition of Clowe will provide a physicality and toughness to the top six forwards of the Devils. Please see my colleague, Mike Stamas’ very well informed article on this site for more detail on Clowe.
The Devils and their fan base will miss David Clarkson. However, the Devils will move forward and make some smaller moves to tweak the roster in preparation for next season. The big piece of business is a reworked contract for Adam Henrique, who is a restricted free agent, and then they should be pretty well set.
The Devils fans will do what we always have done in the past, myself included: we will rally around the players we have and give them all of our support as they pursue the ultimate goal of winning a championship in New Jersey.