Ok - hyperbolic assertions aside - I really do think a scary number of Leafs fans think David Clarkson is going to cure what ails this club. Between random messages I get about Clarkson's addition helping the team's "intensity" or "leadership", I often get a few about how his offense is all about "driving to the net" and "toughness" and it's good that he "hits" and "fights" because those are things the Leafs were apparently lacking in BEFORE he got here.
I'll just assume that none of the people saying this type of garbage are aware that the Leafs led the NHL in fighting majors last year with 46 (which is pretty amazing considering the team in 2nd, Philly, only had 35), and in hits (either Road OR Total - both of which are more indicative of a lack of possession than any real skill on their part - but I digress).
So just to recap - this guy we've signed at the age of 29, who has never scored over 46 points in a single season, for the next 7 years, at a cap hit of $5.25 million per year, is primarily here to either:
A) Help this team INCREASE it's lead in categories that obviously make no real difference to winning (if they mattered the Leafs likely would have gone further in the playoffs right?)
B) Help this team by adding some offense and "grit" on the Wing, which is apparently lacking in our top 6 - this is slightly more plausible but there's a problem with it, but I'll get to that in a minute.
C) Help this team with his "leadership" and "intangibles" that came about through his many years of playoff experience as a battle hardened warrior of epic proportions.
Ok - obviously I think A is sort of ridiculous, and I'm not even going to delve further into that discussion. If you think he's going to help just because he hits and fights, then you're probably beyond my help. Those two categories in and of themselves do not really make a huge difference to winning or losing hockey games. Tough teams win and/or lose regularly... the toughness part is sort of secondary.
So option B? Well that seems to make the most sense - but is he actually good enough to warrant a $5.25 million cap hit. I think most rational individuals agree that the 7 year term is absurd for a 29 year old winger with one 30 goal season to his name, but I do see an awful lot of Leafs fans whose opinions I respect couching those concerns with caveats like "at least he'll be worth that money for the first 2 or 3 years of his deal"... for example:
I think Clarkson's contract is about 4 years too long, but I think $5 and a bit is ok value for him for a few years.— Danny D (@dannyd1976) August 21, 2013
@SteveBurtch I don’t mind the money for Clarkson I mind the term. I would have preferred MacArthur at $3.25.— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) August 22, 2013
@SteveBurtch I'm probably a hopeless optimist, but I don't see his contract be too much of an issue until year 4-5 and above.— Rob Wood (@rtgwood) August 21, 2013
There are a lot more of these out there - but those examples were handy. So - in a nutshell - I think the issue we have here is the anchoring effect, on a number of fronts. Which fronts pray tell? Well first we had this tweet from Darren Dreger before the Leafs actually signed Clarkson at all:
Little doubt David Clarkson will get a 7 year term. Some gm's think he will get $6 mil or higher per. #TSN— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) July 5, 2013
Which set the bar high for Leafs fans who had their sights set on Clarkson. Now obviously the initial reaction to this information was a lot of "What the hell? He's not worth that much"
Some GMS are insane. RT @DarrenDreger Little doubt David Clarkson will get a 7 year term. Some gm's think he will get $6 mil or higher per.— Dan aka NipNops (@infinitesadd) July 5, 2013
So a lot of people were quick to assert he wasn't worth that kind of contract, and validly so. But it was out there, and people were aware of it (how could you not be when Dreger is the one tweeting it?). The question becomes, did people think the dollars were too high or the term too long? Well apparently people still don't like the term, and since the dollars came in lower people are ok with it.
So what's the other front we see the anchoring effect on? Well - this one is sort of delayed in a sense, and it would fall under "anchoring and adjustment" - the effect that arises where we go from our original anchor and have difficulty reaching a rational or logical conclusion thanks to the outsized weighting we give the first number we saw. See the next UFA the Leafs came to terms with was Tyler Bozak, and his contract actually compounds the problem.
Because the Leafs gave Bozak a $4.2 million per year deal, the Clarkson deal doesn't look so insane in comparison to many informed fans. Why? Well because so many of us have spent so much time thinking Bozak is useless, and we know that Clarkson is actually fairly decent at hockey based on fancy stats, we're less upset when we think Clarkson is making $1.05 million more than Bozak per season. It doesn't seem like very much extra for what is obviously a superior player. Thus fewer complaints are made by the people who are generally on top of this sort of thing.
All of this brings me back to actually looking at Clarkson's contract and history and what Leafs fans should realistically expect from the player AND the contract. Unfortunately these two things don't really align in any way, shape, or form, and (spoiler alert) Clarkson is extremely unlikely to live up to his contract for even one year, let alone seven.
I'm trying to be objective with all of this so bear with me while I throw some numbers your way. Let's look at his production in a variety of areas and try to draw some conclusions on the basis of who his closest comparables are as players - then we'll see what we can expect out of him, and think about what that means in terms of dollars.
Ok so - I'm a fan of the fancy stats - all of you basically know that already. Recently I've been making use of dCorsi, which is the sum of the residuals of Actual Corsi For and Against versus Expected Corsi For and Against. The fun thing about this is we can create lists of comparable players in terms of who is outperforming (or underperforming) with respect to expected output. First - here is a short list of players with similar dCorsi values to David Clarkson from the past 6 years:
|Player Name||TOI||GP||avg 5v5 TOI||CA20||ExpCA20||dCA20||CF20||ExpCF20||dCF20||Corsi20||ExpCorsi20||dCorsi20|
*All data courtesy stats.hockeyanalysis.com
This is my first set of comparables, and it's actually not half bad - although obviously some of these players are Centres, but lets try to expand the group a bit. Next up I'm going to include players with a similar point production and shot generation profile. How I've determined these players is to compare Clarkson's individual generation of shot attempts to how many his line generates while on the ice. I've done this looking at the past 3 seasons to be fair to Clarkson's improved offensive output.
I doubt many of you were expecting to see him compared to Scottie Upshall and Ryan Jones - but - there it is! Scottie Upshall is his closest offensive comparable on a per 60 minute basis at 5v5. Next? well - lots of people have been trying to bring in his per game shot, goal, and assist rates, so I went ahead and pulled that information in as well.
Clarkson has posted career averages of 0.23 goals per game, 0.17 assists per game, 0.40 points per game, and 14:07 in average total ice time. I do understand that nobody thinks those are fair comparables because Clarkson was not playing in a top 6 role while producing most of those numbers (why he didn't get into even a 2nd line role until he was 28 is apparently not a discussion many people want to have). Clarkson has many years of experience as a 3rd liner (including the year he posted 30 goals), but last year finally saw him play 2nd line minutes - averaging 17:36 nightly.
Just to be even handed in this analysis, and frankly appease those that think I'm being harsh, I'm going to go ahead and just make use of his averages from the past 2 seasons for the sake of argument. Over the last 2 years he has produced 0.35 goals per game, 0.20 assists per game, 0.55 points per game, and 16:49 in average TOI. To find comparables from recent history, I went ahead and did a search on hockey-reference.com for players around those totals since 2006-07 and obtained this list of players. If you don't want to follow the link - the players resulting from the search other than Clarkson are Michael Ryder, Dan Cleary (2007-11), Rene Bourque, Marco Sturm (2007-11), Curtis Glencross, Darcy Tucker (2006-08), and Chris Clark (2007-09) all of whom produced more assists than Clarkson - who is quite obviously a puck hog.
The inclusion of 2006-08 Darcy Tucker might interest some people since you likely remember it. 2008 was the last year Darcy Tucker played with the Leafs before being BOUGHT OUT for not producing enough to earn his $3 million dollar a year, 4 year contract that he had JUST SIGNED. The salary cap went from $50.3 million in 2007-08 to $56.7 million in 2008-09 so Tucker's cap hit was 5.96% of the Leafs cap space in 07-08 (his final year) and would have represented 5.29% in 08-09. Clarkson's contract with a $5.25 million a year cap hit amounts to 8.16% of the Leafs cap space next year, and who knows how much going forward. Think about that as I finish this dissection.
So realistically we're looking at the following list of cap hit comparables based on Clarkson's recent production offensively, possession wise, and historically. I've included the cap hit percentage in the case of players who have retired or had contracts change since their production shifted based on that last list from hockey-reference.
|Player||Cap Hit||Cap %|
|Michael Ryder (at 29)||$4,000,000||6.73%|
|Dan Cleary (at 29)||$2,800,000||4.94%|
|Marco Sturm (at 29)||$3,500,000||6.17%|
|Darcy Tucker (2006-08 - 33 yrs)||$3,000,000||5.96%|
So according to this analysis - the only player that's actually "comparable" to Clarkson in recent memory that has a higher cap hit is Jordan Staal - and he plays Centre, and is still only 24 years old... so he's pretty damn good.
This posting is pretty lengthy as it is - so I won't draw out the other side of this drastically. Here are Clarkson's salary cap comparables according to Cap Geek. You'll notice that basically the entire list is full of 1st line talent. The top 12 players on that list - who are closest in terms of salary - have career averages of 17:44 TOI, 0.33 goals per game, 0.38 assists per game, and 0.71 points per game. Those aren't just the "best" years of their career, it's their ENTIRE careers, warts and all.
Clarkson fights - though not as much as the leaders on the Leafs do in that regard (and frankly is he helping the team if he regularly spends 5 minute stretches in the sin bin?). He also hits - although he still would have ranked 6th on the team last year and 3rd amongst the forwards. Leo Komarov and Nikolai Kulemin both had more hits than Clarkson last year (road or total - take your pick). So again - where is this perception that Clarkson is going to be the saviour of this franchise coming from? Oh right - probably that anchoring effect again.
In summary, I'm pretty damn certain that Clarkson's contract is a ridiculous over-payment in terms of both term AND money... not just the term. I'll end on this note - the closest mental comparable I think Leafs fans should prepare themselves for is basically a gritter version of Jason Blake... who is actually more skilled offensively than our newest "leader". Clarkson shoots from all over the ice, but I'll grant that he'll go to the net more than Blake did. Both are decent defensively, and Clarkson IS a useful player - he's just not remotely worth what the Leafs are paying him.