The Underlying Numbers in David Clarkson's Season So Far

David Clarkson has faded into the background in recent games, adding to an already poor 2010-11 for the winger. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

In the recap to last night's 2-1 win over Ottawa, despite the offensive display by the team, the fourth line really ate last night in terms of Corsi and overall performance. They were pinned back quite often against a moribund Senators offense.  Rod Pelley was the only one on that line with shots on net, and his best one came away from them on the PK.    Tim Sestito and David Clarkson were essentially non-factors in the game.

Clarkson doing little in the game stands out more to me since it was his sixth straight game of doing very little for the team.  Just look at the game log at NHL.com for Clarkson. Clarkson had a nice run of 4 goals in 5 games from January 6 through January 15, including two on a breakaway.  However, in the six games that have followed, he's had 1 assist - a secondary assist on Brian Rolston's slapshot power play goal against Florida on January 23 - and only 3 shots on net.  Clarkson has gotten cold since that short goal scoring tear in January.

The last time I looked at Clarkson, I found that one of the things he was doing right in the season was getting shots on net.  Even that has dried up dramatically in these past six games.   So once again, I must ask: What's up with David Clarkson?   With 50 games played, it's only right to look at the player much more closely.  Not only the basic numbers, but underlying numbers at 5-on-5 play.

A Quick Summary of Clarkson's Season So Far

I'm still trying to figure it out.  Here's what I believe is some common knowledge:

1) Clarkson's role has largely been on the team's fourth line of forwards with Pelley and Sestito.   Appropriately, he has an even strength ice time per game of 12:15 this season according to the time on ice stats at NHL.com. 

2) Clarkson's skill-set involves both being gritty while showcasing some skill, similar to Randy McKay. 

3) Clarkson's production is quite low this season, along with most of the team:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG SOG PCT
2010 - David Clarkson 50 8 4 12 -19 87 1 0 0 124 6.5

It's possible that Clarkson's having a bad year like several Devils.  When he was on pace last season to set a career high in points only to be cut short by injury, he was shooting at 10.4%.  In the season before last, he was shooting at 10.8%.  While he's still young, a drop off to 6.5% definitely hurts despite having shot the puck quite a bit this season - he's fourth on the team in shots on goal.   The lack of production is exacerbated by who he has been playing with; Pelley and Sestito aren't offensive or all that good players.

Looking at Clarkson's Advanced Stats at 5-on-5 from Behind the Net

The underlying numbers at Behind the Net shine a brighter light on what Clarkson has been facing this season at 5-on-5.  Here's a quick set of advanced stats at 5-on-5 play.   I believe there is something to his linemates dragging him down, so I'll note Sestito and Pelley where appropriate.  You can view their values as well as those for forwards who have played at least 20 games this season.

1) Clarkson has faced weak competition this season.  He has a quality of competition value of -0.045; and he's 8th out of 11 Devils forwards in this state.  At least Clarkson is a positive possession player with respect to this quality of competition. His Corsi relative to quality of competition is 0.231, the 4th best value on the team.   Sestito is dead last on the Devils with a value of -0.122; but Pelley is 5th with 0.176.

2) Clarkson actually has a good quality of teammates. Clarkson's quality of teammates value is 0.053, 7th among 11 Devils forwards. Incidentally, his current linemates come in 10th (Sestito, -0.239) and 11th (Pelley, -0.340) in this stat.  Perhaps earlier games have boosted this stat?   Clarkson's not a positive possession player quality of teammates. His Corsi relative to quality of teammates is negative at -1.609, 8th out of 11 forwards on the team.  His linemates are worse than him in Corsi relative to quality of teammates as well.

3) Clarkson is not much of a positive possession player this season.  While he has a on-ice Corsi rate of 3.3, the off-ice Corsi rate is much higher at 4.39.  Therefore, the team does a little better with the puck when he's not on the ice; hence, his negative relative Corsi rate.  His usual linemates of Sestito and Pelley are seriously in a hole, though.  Both have a relative Corsi rate beyond -14, and their on-ice

4) Clarkson's PDO isn't all that high due to the shooting percentage.  When he's on the ice, the team's shooting percentage is 3.98% (9th) and the save percentage is 90.2% (tied for 4th).  Even when they are shots, they haven't been going in all that often.  It's not all bad luck or unfortunate circumstance for Clarkson.  He has been buoyed by good save percentage relative to this team, though.

5) Clarkson has started in relatively tough positions quite a bit this season.  His offensive zone start percentage is 46.4%, the 10th best mark on the team, just ahead of his linemate Pelley (46.2%).  (Aside: Sestito is 6th best on the team at 51.2%).  What this means is that more often than not, Clarkson's starting away from a favorable position on this ice.  Getting the puck forward is more difficult in this regard, especially if his center loses the faceoff.  He would be on defense right away, a detriment.  On top of this, Clarkson does have a higher offensive zone finish percentage of 50.9%.  So despite the poor relative Corsi, he does tend finish in a better position. The same can be said for Sestito and Pelley, but to different degrees (Sestito finishes at 53.4%, Pelley finishes only at 46.9%).

6) Clarkson still racks up the PIMs.  He has the highest on-ice penalties for the Devils rate per 60 minute rate at 4.3 and the highest penalties taken per 60 minute rate at 1.3. Not two stats you'd like to see a player lead in.  This shouldn't be a surprise given that he leads the team in PIM with 87.

It's not all bad though.  He's done a good job staying away from the box, as his last recorded minor was on January 4.  His last penalty was a fighting major on January 17.  Of course, if you feel he hasn't been all that physical as of late, that could be contributing as to why he's not taking calls.  I think not taking penalties is a good thing, though I can understand how Clarkson not being physical is a problem.

7) A quick summary of on-ice/off-ice shooting and scoring rates.  When Clarkson comes onto the ice the rate of shots for per 60 minutes goes up by 2, but the goals for per 60 minutes goes down by 0.98. Again, this isn't much of a surprise since Clarkson has been a high shooting player for most of the season, recent games notwithstanding and the shooting percentage when he's on the ice has been quite low.  On the opposite side, the goals against per 60 minutes goes down by 0.06 and the shots against per 60 minutes goes up by 0.7.  It's not great, but not too bad - especially considering he's starting in away from the offensive zone more often than not.  He hasn't been a defensive liability.

For what it's worth, when Sestito and Pelley are on the ice, the Devils' offense has suffered greatly.

Concluding Commentary & Further Questions

I'm still somewhat baffled at Clarkson's season, though.  I believe that the past 6 games are more of a cold streak for Clarkson, as especially noted by his lack of shooting recently.  That will change in due time. Based on what I've seen, the first thing he needs to change is to get his gritty edge back. He needs to be throwing some hits. He needs to cause some havok.  While it's admirable that he hasn't taken a minor for quite some time now, Clarkson hasn't contributed much elsewhere.  He's not a defensive player.  He's not a great possession player.  He's hasn't been offensive.  Throw in a lack of physical effort and you have to wonder what he brings to the table.

Overall, playing with Sestito and Pelley hasn't been good at all for Clarkson. He can't carry them, and either aren't good enough on their own to boost the other up.   While Clarkson's underlying numbers are better than both of them in several stats this season, they could have been boosted for when Clarkson was away from those two earlier this season.   I don't think it's a stretch to say that Clarkson would be better off on a different line.  One of the first things Jacques Lemaire can do to try and get Clarkson going is to put him elsewhere.

But that's easier said than done. Where do you make the switch?  Do you move Adam Mair back down to the fourth line and hope Clarkson contributes on a higher line?  What if Mattias Tedenby plays, do you then move Clarkson back down or risk Tedenby to suffer with Pelley and Sestito?  Do you replace one of Pelley or Sestito with someone from Albany?  Do you wait until a trade is made at forward, and give him more?  Most of all: is he even playing like he deserves more minutes? Clarkson hasn't doesn't deserve anything more in the past 6 games, but earlier this season and past seasons suggest he can do a little more.

Lastly: Do you entertain a trade involving Clarkson?  Clarkson carries a not insignificant cap hit of $2.667 million and will make $3 million in salary in each of the next two seasons.  This could turn out to be just a bad year in a bad season for the team, and 2011-12 will be better for both the player and the team. If the Devils feel this way, then they shouldn't move him within the next few weeks.

However, I can't help but think whether Clarkson is really all that essential.   None of his underlying numbers are all that special (and most aren't good).  I do like how he plays when he's "on," which has been rare this season.  Yet, he's not the only hockey player who can be gritty and contribute some offense.  Given that he hasn't had a good season, I'm skeptical that anyone would want him. Then again, Jamie Langenbrunner got traded in January and he was the captain of a 30th place hockey team with a whopping 4 goals to his name at the time.  If there was interest for him, it wouldn't surprise me if there would be some interest in Clarkson from some team.  Maybe a change of scenery would do Clarkson well; and the Devils could at least clear that cap hit.  At that point, the question returns to "Is this just a bad year, or a sign of things to come?"

What do you think of David Clarkson's season? What do you think can be done for him to turn it around?  New linemates? Playing more physically first to at least be doing something on the ice?  Time - he's cold and hope that will change eventually? All of this? None of this and something else?   Please let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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