My love of the David Clarkson trade and its many remedies for idiocy
The David Clarkson trade might be my favorite trade in recent memory.
Let me count the ways.
David Clarkson was born in Toronto, and was given the opportunity to make $5.25 million annually for seven years to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He said on Friday he has no regrets about signing there, and that it was a childhood dream to wear the jersey. His proudest day as a Leaf was when his father saw him wearing that sweater for the first time, on the day of his signing in Summer 2013. It was, and shall be, the only good day he had in the sweater.
Oy, that signing. Clarkson was a perfect fit for the New Jersey Devils: a power forward who they didn’t ask much more than being a physical assistant to the team’s professional scorers on a contending team. He wasn’t overpaid. He didn’t have a hell of a lot of expectations on his shoulders – even when a reunion with junior coach Pete DeBoer turned him into a 30-goal scorer.
He was a spectacularly terrible fit for the Leafs. The salary was as high as the expectations – the minute some hyperbolist puts you in a Wendel Clark mustache on the cover a newspaper, you’re basically retirement-banner-or-bust – and Clarkson hadn’t a clue how to handle any of it. That 10-game suspension in the preseason that completely threw off his integration into the lineup. That ineffective offense. The ice time. The injuries. It was a trainwreck, and Clarkson’s deal was soon being called the worst in the NHL. It was even buyout proof!
And soon, GM Dave Nonis was being called the worst in the NHL, too, despite saying from the start that the length of the contract wasn’t something he cared about: “I’m not worried about six or seven [years] right now. I’m worried about one. And in Year 1, I know we’re going to have a very good player.”
Except they didn’t, and Nonis wore this mark of shame like a scarlet dollar season. The nerve of this guy: Of course he didn’t care about contract length. He wasn’t going to survive past Year 2 of the deal. It was somebody else’s problem.
Except, now it actually is somebody else’s problem; only it’s not a problem, it’s a solution.
You’d think the fact that Nathan Horton was injured when Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen signed him might have given the Jackets pause before that 7-year, $37.1 million deal, but he was “an elite power forward” and a “perfect fit” for a Jackets team that previously had perfect fits in Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik.
In total, Horton played 36 regular-season games with the Jackets before a degenerative back problem sidelined him for the 2014-15 season and, potentially, his career. It’s a signing every bit as regrettable as Clarkson’s, although it’s more “act of God” vs. “manmade disaster” in the catalyst department.
But the Blue Jackets had their own manmade disaster, on the fiscal front: The contract wasn’t insured. So Columbus would have had to pay $26.1 million over the next five years for a player not playing.
Instead, they decided to ask the Toronto Maple Leafs if they could trade the player not playing but getting paid for the player playing that they didn’t want to play or pay.
Thus, Clarkson was traded for Horton. The difference in the contracts, over the next five years? That’d be $1.4 million.
The trade went down on Thursday. Some people laughed. Some people were outraged that the Leafs were circumventing the salary cap, which is a hard accusation to prove when Horton’s shown a desire to come back and there’s five years left in which to do so.
Most people were awestruck that this level of ingenuity could exist in a National Hockey League trade, let alone one involving Dave Nonis.
The ongoing epilogue of this trade reminds me of a 1990s coming of age comedy, when there’s that montage before the credits showing how each character has grown, where their lives are leading or how Stifler is still going to be a redeemable hound.
So cue the opening chords of “Laid” by James, and consider:
- David Nonis, hapless general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, looking like Sisyphus was given a 10-minute break from the boulder. Clarkson was the mistake that defined him, and its correction has some Leafs fans calling this an act of magic. They still want him fired, of course, but he finally gets a well-earned stick-tap.
- Jarmo Kekalainen, shuffling bills around his desk, knowing that he’s not squandering his team’s limited budget on an asset that may never hit the ice again. He scrolls through his contacts to find Pete DeBoer’s number, curious how to crack the Clarkson code.
- Eugene Melnyk, Senators owner, wondering why Nonis opted for this deal instead of the one in which Ottawa got Clarkson and Toronto retained three-quarters of his salary. (Just our theory.)
- Lou Lamoriello, Devils GM, holding the contract if long-term injured forward and Clarkson replacement Ryane Clowe, wondering if there’s a Clarkson Trade for him to make while stewing over the fact that Nonis and Kekalainen find the kind of loophole he used to find.
- Nathan Horton, sitting at home in Florida, watching a Leafs game on satellite, aching with everything in him to join them on the ice. He ultimately doesn’t care who pays him … but there’s a part of him that’s pleased it won’t be coming out of Columbus’ coffers but rather those of Rogers/Bell.
- David Clarkson, looking in a mirror, thinking back to his Devils days, trying to forget the Leafs ones, knowing he has a chance to just play hockey without the media mentioning what an abject disaster he is on every occasion.
- Finally, a Leafs fan wearing that David Clarkson jersey they purchased two years ago, wondering if the last 24 hours have turned the most regrettable purchase of their hockey fandom into some bizarre, ironic tribute to the most bizarre, ironic, trade in recent memory.
"Ah, you think you're so pretty...heeeeee-heeeee."
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