I didn’t intend on posting an article today, however this piece by Chris Johnston over at Sportsnet.ca and this David Clarkson interview on Leafs TV inspired me. So, here we stand: four days into the Clarkson era in Toronto. While I fully expected the praise and accolades for the the Leafs’ big UFA signing to be loud, I didn’t expect it to be this loud already.
I actually like Clarkson as a hockey player and have said from the day the Leafs signed him that he is going to make the blue and white more successful in 2013-14. The last three years at $5.25 million dollars per season terrifies me though, and I find it highly unlikely that between the ages of 34 and 36 Clarkson’s contract will be anything but an expensive burden to the blue and white. It is an inevitability regardless of how high the cap rises over the next 7 years. While I do agree that teams must overpay in order to persuade UFAs to sign, I don’t think the Leafs signing a 29 year old winger who has a career high of 46 points to a 7 year contract was a good idea. Call me crazy, but it’s hard to pretend that the player and the contract are two separate things.
Turning the Page
For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to try. As I focus on the present instead of the future, I am aware that Clarkson can be a valuable contributor to the Leafs second line and add some muscle both along the boards and in front of the oppositions net. In my viewings of Clarkson over the years he has always been responsible in his own zone. Whether that defensive consciousness was a product of the tight New Jersey Devils system or Clarkson himself will be determined shortly. All in all he will be a welcome boost to the Leafs on the ice.
What frustrates me when it comes to Clarkson (and finally why I decided to actually put fingers to keyboard) is the insane love in that has begun in this town. Johnson’s article points out how Clarkson’s fight last night with Nicklas Grossman of the Philadelphia Flyers (he of two career fighting majors in six full NHL seasons) was something that Leaf fans can expect from their biggest ever free agent signing. That article fails to mention how Clarkson chirped Flyers enforcer Jay Rosehill in the first period then refused to accept the former Leafs’ challenge to fight at the beginning of the second period. Did I want Clarkson to fight Rosehill? Of course not. However, over the past years I have heard every talking head (led by chief buffoon Don Cherry) and radio call in show criticize Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf for the exact same thing Clarkson did last night. If we’re to believe in the wisdom of the people mentioned above then Clarkson was picking his opponents against the Flyers and not willing to back up his words. Ultimately I think all of that stuff is pure bullshit, but if we’re going to rip Dion for it why are we writing articles praising Clarkson for the same thing?
The other thing that people have begun to say about Clarkson is how he brings immediate respect to the Leafs sweater and how other teams know the Leafs can no longer be pushed around. I’m confused, isn’t this willingness to be tough and physical the reason the Leafs were successful last season (without Clarkson)? Isn’t this why both Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren were in the lineup every night for their 6 minutes of ice time? Am I to believe the spoonful that I was being fed throughout the 2013 season or the one that is being waved in front of my face now? It can’t be both guys. Clarkson is also being praised for his comments about how the Air Canada Centre will not a be a pleasant environment for opposing teams. You know what’s funny, that was the exact same thing that people praised Mike Komisarek for when the Leafs signed him. Before Komisarek hit the ice for the blue and white many of the same accolades being tossed Clarkson’s ways in terms of intangibles, respect and accountability were being said about the then big Leafs free agent acquisition. We all remember how that turned out right?
What pisses me off above all else when it comes to all this blustering over Clarkson is how it is an indirect (or perhaps direct, I don’t know) criticism of Phaneuf. Phaneuf does all the things people are saying Clarkson does (in terms of setting a physical tone and standing up for teammates), yet he doesn’t receive the same respect. Phaneuf stood up in the dressing room following the overtime loss in Game 4 of the first round series and took all the blame (even though his teammates on the ice were just as guilty) for the error that led to the winning goal. Is that not accountability and leadership? Phaneuf then responded by elevating his play as the Leafs valiantly came back to force a seventh and deciding game.
Leadership and toughness already exists on this Leafs roster. Clarkson may be a better interview then Phaneuf, and he may be a better story due to where he was born, but that doesn’t mean the Leafs desperately lacked the intangibles he is being praised for. The more players like Phaneuf and Clarkson that can both contribute on the ice and set a standard off of it the better. Let’s not pretend though that what Clarkson is bringing has been missing in this town for years. It’s just not true.
What I’d really like is for someone to ask Clarkson what it was like to play against Phaneuf the past few years. Looking back at those battles it was apparent they were two players that didn’t get along on the ice.