David Clarkson is one of the top free agents on the market and could be a good fit for the Leafs’ rough-and-tough system

David Clarkson will almost certainly not be wearing a New Jersey Devils uniform this season. His agent, Pat Morris, confirmed as much Tuesday when he announced that the 29-year-old winger and Toronto native had rejected the Devils latest offer and was willing test the free agent market.

Clarkson’s is an interesting story. Undrafted and signed as a free agent by the Devils in 2005, he was known as little other than rough-and-ready fighter until a breakout season in 2011-12. That year he scored 30 goals and established himself as an intimidating presence with the gloves on and off.

Toronto, at first glance, would seem a good fit. Clarkson is the kind of player Randy Carlyle loves – direct, aggressive and not afraid to get his hands dirty. At 29, he would also bring a sense of leadership to Toronto’s front line.

The question, however, is whether Clarkson can replicate that 30-goal season. In 46 games last year he led the offensively lacklustre Devils with 15 goals and you have to wonder if, given a more promising platform, he could improve on those numbers.

One could also imagine the lift that Clarkson could give the dressing room as the scars heal from the playoff exit at the hands of the Bruins. The Leafs’ culture of aggression last year, encapsulated by Colton Orr doing an admirable job of keeping Zdeno Chara relatively quiet in that series, would welcome Clarkson and his do-or-die mentality. There were frustations last season with Nikolai Kulemin and James Van Riemsdyk’s occasional reluctance to crash the net – Clarkson would have no such qualms.

But – and it’s a big but – the sticking point for GM Dave Nonis will be the fee he’ll likely demand and whether it matches the ability a player unproven as a goalscorer. Those 15 goals were heavily front-loaded and didn’t quite match his rate from the previous year. Nonis must decide whether Clarkson, at 29 years of age, is more than just a flash in the pan.

It’s a gamble, for sure. But looking at the direction that the Leafs are heading, and the style that they bought into so quickly under Carlyle, it could well be a gamble worth taking.

Advertisements