In a shallow free agent class, David Clarkson stands out as one of this summer's most sought-after free agents.
Who is David Clarkson?
At 6'0 and 200 lb., Clarkson has proven over his six-year NHL career that he isn't afraid to mix it up. Clarkson is a former 30-goal scorer, accomplishing the feat while playing on a 2011-12 Devils team that would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Clarkson's scoring pace retreated somewhat this year, potting 15 goals in 48 games while his shooting percentage regressed back to normalcy. With a points pace over the last two seasons trending to 40-45 points, Clarkson has demonstrated that he can produce as an average to below average second line player.
In addition to demonstrating that he can be effective at even strength when deployed with appropriate support (Clarkson was frequently accompanied by Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias during his Devils tenure), Clarkson is also a frequent powerplay contributor. Clarkson was relied on for 3:33 minutes of PPTOI/G last year, while amassing a third of his total points with the man advantage. Clarkson was not used frequently (read: at all) on the Devils penalty kill.
Finally, Clarkson offers solid possession numbers as well. He was successful in pushing the puck forward when deployed in the defensive zone, and while he certainly benefited from the opportunity to play with teammates like Elias, he demonstrated that he can be successful on his own, and even improve the numbers of teammates.
David Clarkson is a possession-positive, high-volume shooter, capable of playing with a physical edge while scoring at a second line rate.
Should the Canadiens sign David Clarkson?
While Clarkson would be a valuable addition to the Canadiens in a vacuum, there are a number of mitigating factors that may persuade the Canadiens away from potentially pursuing him.
Traditionally, peak goal production comes at age 27. Clarkson is already 29, and therefore likely to decline from his recent production and continue to decline over the course of his deal. In fact, Cam Charron recently laid out how Clarkson might be expected to perform on his next deal, using some Clarkson comparables to demonstrate that is unlikely to maintain his current production. As a caveat, Clarkson’s most productive seasons of his career have been his last two, so perhaps he can buck the trend that Charron describes.
Overshadowing any discussion of Clarkson’s performance, however, will be his contract demands. Clarkson is pursuing the only big payday of his career, rumoured by Darren Dreger to be as high as 6.5 million dollars per year over a seven year term. There are exactly 28 NHL forwards currently working on a contract with a cap hit of $6.5M/yr, and in most cases, the contract-holder is at least a candidate for their team’s best forward. While Clarkson is a solid add, he would not provide the value that current Canadiens Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec are, at a lower cost. Even at a much more reasonable $5M/yr, Clarkson would be tied for the highest cap hit among Canadiens forwards, even with potential linemate Plekanec and the Canadiens most recent former Devil UFA signing, Brian Gionta. Even with a shallow free agent market inflating the salaries of the few valuable forwards available, it is difficult to imagine that a $5M/yr contract (currently all the Canadiens are able to afford after locking up Briere) would be amenable to team or player.
Despite the hype, it is difficult to imagine that the Canadiens will sign Clarkson, even if they were to clear the cap space to make the type of offer he’ll demand.