2011 Trade Deadline Question: Should David Clarkson Be On the Devils' Trading Block?

Back in the end of June 2010, David Clarkson re-signed with the New Jersey Devils for a 3 year, $8 million contract. While his 2009-10 season was cut short due to a broken fibula (and re-injuring his leg by coming back too soon), Clarkson continued to show real promise as a player. A physical player who can bang bodies in the corners and could conceivably put in 20 goals and 40 points in a full season.   

It's that kind of play - actual productive contribution mixed with grit - that has made him a fan favorite in New Jersey.  Sure, his "Clark-arounds" and toe drags and other flair moves are sometimes ill-advised; but that's what makes him stand out. That he has the confidence to attempt such moves.   I've called him Randy McKay Version 2.0 several times since he does resemble what McKay did in New Jersey in the late 1990s.  

However, this season has definitely been a big step back.  Like most of the team, his shooting percentage dropped like an anvil out of the sky in the first half of the season.  But at least Clarkson kept shooting, something I noticed the first time I looked closely at him in November.  Things have changed since then and everyone's luck has gotten better and the team is playing more like a proper hockey team.  However, Clarkson is an exception.  He remains on the fourth line, he hasn't scored a goal since January 15, and his last point in a game was on January 23, 2011.


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG SOG PCT
2010-11 - David Clarkson 56 8 4 12 -20 102 1 0 0 139 5.7

Earlier this month, I took a closer look at the advanced statistics for David Clarkson to see whether there's something he's doing well underlying the lack of points.   While writing it, I began to think more and more about the possibilities of trading him given his cap hit and this horrid season after two good ones. Should the Devils put Clarkson on the trading block?  With only 12 days left before the NHL Trade Deadline, I want to focus on that question.  It's something the Devils organization has to at least consider in the coming days.  After the jump, I lay out the pros and cons to such a move.

 

 

Why the Devils Should Put Clarkson on the Block

Clarkson's cap hit is $2.667 million for this season and the following two.  With the Devils not exactly loaded with cap space for next season, clearing $2.667 million can help a lot.  That could go to re-signing Andy Greene or signing a replacement or answering some other need or keeping space open for future moves.

It's because of this cap hit, the other reasons to put him on the block really stand out.

One such reason is his place in the lineup.  As David Sarch noted in Episode 20 of Talking Red, the top 9 forwards in New Jersey for next season is looking pretty crowded. Assuming Jason Arnott is out of the picture, there's no question that Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Patrik Elias will be in the top 9 next season. A re-signed Zach Parise will definitely be there.  Then you have a bubble of 5 more forwards already in the top 9: Dainius Zubrus. Brian Rolston, Mattias Tedenby, Nick Palmieri, and Vladimir Zharkov. Throw in Jacob Josefson leading the Albany candidates and it's already looking crowded for Clarkson for 2011-12.

Adding to the notion that Clarkson may be out of the picture is his current role.  Even if he has a good night with several shots on net and not getting pinned back so badly, he's still on the fourth line with Rod Pelley and Tim Sestito.  While the team is doing incredibly well as of late, the reality still shows Clarkson behind Zharkov and Tedenby, who each get limited minute, in the pecking order at forward.  Jacques Lemaire may be pleased with how he has done on the fourth line (he was last night against Carolina according to this post by Tom Gulitti), but it's telling that the coach isn't giving the winger more minutes in response.

Then again, perhaps Lemaire is not pleased.  I'm certainly not pleased with his production and advanced stats at evens this season. As a reminder, he's being paid $2 million this season and then $3 million for each for the next two seasons. He's not really providing full value for his compensation this season.  As a fourth liner alone, he's quite over-paid. It may be a bad line, but a cheap bad line is easier to swallow than an expensive one.  It doesn't cost much to find a guy who throws his weight around, and Clarkson really hasn't done too much of that of late either.

Even if he goes back to playing like he did in 2008-09 or 2009-10, is the possibility of 20 goals and 40 points along with the fact that he'll still drop the gloves somewhat regularly and pick up a whole lot of PIMs worth $3 million in 2011-12 and 2012-13?  The Devils are already eating a bad Zubrus' contract that he can't live up to and more so with Rolston's larger deal.  Why stick with another bad deal or a deal about to go bad if Clarkson can be moved?

On the surface it may seem difficult to deal a player who has 2 seasons left on his deal and for not significant money.  However, Mike Fisher will count for $4.2 million on the salary cap for the next two seasons and that didn't deter Nashville from acquiring him from Ottawa.  Kris Versteeg carries a $3 million/year cap hit for the next two seasons and Philadelphia still found it fit to trade picks to Toronto for him.  Chris Kelly, a third line center on Ottawa, got dealt to Boston in exchange for a second rounder.  Yes, Chris Kelly got that much.

It may seem like dealing Clarkson is selling low, but given what trades have already been made in the league (especially the Kelly deal), the Devils could still get an appreciable return for essentially making space.   It's not that I don't like Clarkson.  I do. But I liked McKay, many fans did, and he was traded - which turned out to be a sensible move. Clarkson not really helping this team out now, so I question whether he can justify a larger salary going forward.  If he can't, then he should be moved.

Why They Shouldn't Put David Clarkson on The Block

Essentially, the argument for trading him boils down to - he's not all that good and it's better to cut losses now rather than in either of the next two seasons.

The big flaw is that this is essentially "selling low."  As with any move, there's a risk involved in doing so, but it's generally bad idea to do that.  The player could turn around next season and suddenly look much better either by having better luck or being put into a better situation than he was on their former team.  A turnaround may not even wait until next season.  Clarkson's slumping now (has been since the end of November), but that doesn't mean he's going to go through the rest of the season while adding a mere 5 more points or something like that.  There's still a little time for him to get hot.

There's no disputing that Clarkson is having a bad 2010-11.   However, he wasn't this bad in the two seasons prior to this one.  That's the risk.  Is what we are seeing now of Clarkson going to be a sign of things to come or just an off year?  If he catches a few more breaks, he'll get a better situation, and he'll play with more of a purpose in 2011-12.

The big wild card is the coaching situation.  Whoever the new head coach will be for next season will have their own opinion of Clarkson. It's entirely reasonable to think that he may favor Clarkson's talents more and play him on a different line and/or with better players on his line.  Then, Clarkson may be able to help out more instead of carrying his line.

The point about linemates cannot be emphasized enough.  A big reason why Clarkson's numbers - both counting and underlying - are terrible is because he's been playing with bad players.  Tim Sestito and Rod Pelley add nothing to offense. They are defensive black holes.  Clarkson often looks like the best player on that line because he's the only sure-fire bona fide NHL player on that line.  It's not Clarkson's fault Sestito and Pelley are who they are; but it does hurt him and what he can contribute to the Devils.  Clarkson wasn't lining up with scrubs next to him in 2008-09 or 2009-10.

Fourth lines by their definition aren't that crucial, but a bad unit can hurt. Since I believe 2 borderline NHL players are already on that unit, who replaces Clarkson if he's traded? Adam Mair, who's basically a third one?  Brad Mills, who's minor league fodder but can at least throw hits and allow people to say, "You just got taken...to the Mills?"  Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who is just a goon? Someone else from Albany that hasn't been called up yet?  Trading Clarkson leaves a bit of a hole on a line that already isn't benefiting the team.  It would not be an addition-by-subtraction move.

Going back to the lineup issue; let's consider the possibility of other players being traded.  For example, let's assume Jason Arnott is traded to another team with no forward coming back.  A spot would be open somewhere for Clarkson to fill in.  In this example, I can see Lemaire moving Zubrus to center, leaving the right wing spot open next to Elias.   Lemaire could put Clarkson there, or he may move up Tedenby - leaving a spot open for Clarkson on the third line.  With one move, Clarkson's back in the picture.  Plus, he would then have an opportunity to prove he's deserving of it for the new coach next season. The fourth line would still be bad, but Clarkson would be in a better spot to try to earn his money.

Besides, if Arnott can be traded for a second round pick (or better), then what is the point of trading Clarkson outside of clearing space?  If all the Devils do before the trade deadline is guarantee that they'll be drafting in the first three rounds in 2011, then that would be satisfactory (to a point).  If the Devils want to clear salary, they should be looking to move the larger contracts of Zubrus or Rolston. Difficult as though may be, it would be more significant than moving Clarkson.

Essentially, the main reason to not move Clarkson is that he's in a bad spot right now having an off year.  He'll turn 27 later this season, so it's not as if this is it for the player. If you believe he'll play with better players next season (or even this season) and be able to contribute more, then it does not make sense to trade Clarkson.  When it comes to players in their prime; 

Where Do You Stand?

Personally, I'm leaning towards putting him on the block.  With the Fisher, Versteeg, and Kelly deals, there are buyers who want to give picks away for players who aren't big difference makers who still have a significant cap hit and length on their contract.  At least, there are buyers right now.  The Devils should try to get in on that if they can. Given how wacky the trading market has been, Clarkson might actually command a better return than a 36-year old Jason Arnott who is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Plus, I think there's plenty of value of creating space for this upcoming summer. I think the Devils should try to retain Andy Greene instead of dealing him. Greene's the only two-way defenseman on this roster with NHL experience.  He's not as easily replaceable as a fourth-line-bound Clarkson. Given Tom's post on what Greene would want on a new deal, an extra $2.667 million available on the cap would make it easier financially to keep him. If Greene goes elsewhere for whatever reason, then the Devils will have the space to get a replacement for his two-way skills on defense.  Or they can use.  As we have seen at the beginning of this season and in past seasons, it's better to have some cap flexibility in case there is a player to acquire, to have more room for trades, and to allow for call-ups should  non-long term injuries strike.

By putting him on the block, I'm not saying he should go to just anyone for anything. It all depends on who's offering and how much they are offering.  In my mind, a good situation would be if the Devils draw enough interest in Clarkson to get a return of a 2nd round pick in 2011 (or better, like a 2nd and a 3rd or a 2nd a mid-level prospect) from a Western Conference team.  I'm not saying the Devils should immediately say yes to such an offer, but they should seriously consider it.  I'd stay far, far away from dealing him within the division, though.  6 games per season against a possibly re-vitalized Clarkson isn't something I'd want to think about.

Of course, there could be nothing but poor offers out there or even none at all for Clarkson.  I can accept that.  I'm just saying the Devils should consider offering Clarkson in a trade if they can get some picks (or more) for him. Clearing up some cap space is a huge addition for next season in my opinion; and I feel it's going to be easier to move him than Zubrus or Rolston. Though, if moving Arnott is enough to get those picks and it can allow Clarkson to flourish elsewhere in the roster, then I can accept keeping him

To answer the title question shortly: "Yes, with a few ifs."

Your Turn

Now I want to know what you think.  Do you think the Devils should hold onto David Clarkson or should the team start fielding offers for him within the next 11 days?  If you think they should keep him, then please let us know why you think so? If you think he should be traded, also tell us why and what you think a reasonable return for Clarkson would be in a trade? Even if you think I'm totally crazy for suggesting that Clarkson get dealt away, then let me know why I'm so crazy as well. Please leave your answers and thoughts on this issue in the comments. Thanks for reading.

NHL Trade Rumors and Hockey Blogs - SB Nation NHL Trade Deadline

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