David Clarkson for Nathan Horton: Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets trade problems – and it's best for all involved
This is one of those trades where you wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It’s simple. It’s brilliant. It helps both sides.
The Columbus Blue Jackets had a problem. They had signed winger Nathan Horton to a seven-year, $37.1 million contract on July 5, 2013. But they didn’t insure his contract, and he had debilitating back problems, and his career was almost certainly over. They faced the prospect of paying him $26 million not to play for the rest of this season and the next five.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had a problem. They had signed winger David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million contract on July 5, 2013. But he had turned out to be one of the biggest busts in NHL history, and because of the structure of his contract, they couldn’t buy him out without severe pain. He had a no-move clause. They seemed stuck with him.
So Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen called Leafs GM Dave Nonis with a proposal: You take our problem. We’ll take yours. Clarkson waived his no-move clause, and the teams struck the deal Thursday night, shocking the hockey world.
This way, at least the Jackets are getting something for their money, even if it is an overpaid power forward. The Jackets were one of the teams that pursued Clarkson in free agency, and maybe, just maybe, he can be more productive in Columbus than he was in Toronto, even if he never reaches the 30-goal mark like he did that one season with the New Jersey Devils.
This way, the Leafs get out of a massive mistake and free up salary-cap space – critical as they start to rebuild the organization and head in a new direction. The old saying is that you have to spend money to make money. Well, the Leafs had to spend money to spend money, and it’s only money to Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. MLSE prints it by the pound.
And this way, Clarkson gets to start over. He gets out of the Toronto media glare. He goes to a team that wanted him before all of this, a team that fits his blue-collar, hard-working style. Maybe under these circumstances the contract won’t hang over his head, and expectations will be reasonable.
Neither Horton nor Clarkson deserved blame for their contracts. The teams offered them. Of course they were going to take them. Horton would still be playing if he could. He doesn’t want to be walking around like an old man. Clarkson was pursued not just by the Leafs and the Jackets, but by the Edmonton Oilers and the Ottawa Senators, too.
Even though it was in his best interest, even though he had been a healthy scratch recently, give Clarkson credit for swallowing his pride and accepting this deal. This was not supposed to be a nightmare. It was supposed to be a dream come true.
Clarkson is from Toronto. He was a third-generation Leafs fan, the son of a city worker who shared season tickets, a kid who used to stand on Wood Street so he could snag autographs from players after games at Maple Leaf Gardens. He had multiple Leafs sweaters – Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Gary Roberts, Darcy Tucker.
In the wee hours of July 5, he came home and played a video for his dad. It was a recruiting video the Leafs had made, and it ended with “CLARKSON” being stitched into the blue-and-white. He told his dad he was signing with his hometown team. His dad teared up.
Clarkson thought he knew what he was getting into. He didn’t make the comparisons to Clark. He promised nothing more than to play hard and do his best.
“Am I going to score 30 every year? Probably not,” he said in September 2013. “Some of the best players in the game don’t score 30 every year. So I think what I bring is a little bit of grit, heart, sticking up for teammates and leadership in that room.”
Still, he was being paid like a star, and he was expected to produce like a star, and he didn’t even produce enough for a plugger. His Leafs career started with a 10-game suspension after he left the bench to fight during a preseason game, and it became a total disaster. He had only 15 goals and 26 points in 118 games for the Leafs.
“The fact that those fans have an expectation, that’s fine, because they’re paying to watch the game,” Clarkson said back before it all went bad. “They should. And I have expectations myself.”
He didn’t live up to anyone’s expectations.
So now “CLARKSON” is being ripped out of the blue-and-white and stitched into red, white and blue, and a piece of Clarkson’s heart is probably being ripped out, too. And man, it’s best for everyone.
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