The goose egg watch is on.
David Clarkson, the Toronto Maple Leafs big off-season signing, doesn't have a goal after 10 games, and on Monday that meant for a few more rounds of questioning on the subject.
He is getting used to them.
"I don't think the fans ask those questions," said Clarkson, who has three assists this season. "I think the fans watch the games and they see how individuals play. You guys [in the media] are the only ones that ask those questions to be dead honest with you. I don't think I've had a fan come up to me [with that]. I run into lots of them. There's a lot of compliments."
There are certainly things to compliment Clarkson on, if you leave out the foolish 10-game suspension he took in preseason.
He has come as advertised: A physical, grinding winger who isn't afraid to drop the gloves and leads the team in hits per game (3.4), something that surely hasn't gone unnoticed by coach Randy Carlyle.
Clarkson has also been dealt a very defensive role in his brief tenure with Toronto. Less than 18 per cent of the faceoffs he has been on the ice for have been in the offensive zone – by far the lowest number on the team – and he is also playing against other teams' top lines much of the time.
He has also skated with a rotating cast of linemates, lining up beside four different centres in the 10 games.
In spite of that, the Leafs are actually performing better with him on the ice than his goal total indicates. Clarkson is the only player on the roster that has been on the ice for more shots for than against at even strength and is the Leafs best possession player overall, two (related) areas in which Toronto desperately needs to improve if they hope to become a Stanley Cup contender.
David Clarkson, before and after
Stats (per game)
PP ice time
48.4 per cent
30.7 per cent
55.1 per cent
50.0 per cent
*– last two seasons
What he hasn't looked like is your typical $5.25-million player, a cap hit he's set to earn until 2020 and which ate up the majority of GM Dave Nonis's free cap space in the summer.
And that's directly related to the questions being asked.
"I don't even think about that," Carlyle said of Clarkson living up to the seven-year, $36.75-million contract. "I don't know if he thinks of it… Obviously it's a flashpoint for [the media] to talk about. And you create that pressure when you report that he hasn't done this or he hasn't done that. That's part of this market. That's part of that white noise that comes and it comes loud and clear here. But we think David Clarkson has a lot to offer to our hockey club."
Clarkson doesn't seem particularly perturbed by the attention so far but admitted he would like to be on the scoreboard by now, joking he even attempted to kick one in during a recent win over the Buffalo Sabres.
It was disallowed after a video review.
But based on his last two years in New Jersey, the only seasons that he has played a top six role, reasonable expectations for Clarkson probably put him in the 25-goal, 40-point range over a full season.
A host of factors, however, will very likely prevent him from getting even to that modest mark:
A) He has already missed 10 games
B) He is playing in a far more defensive role
C) He is generating 35 per cent fewer shots and attempted shots per game
D) He is getting a little more than half the power play ice time.
Barring any changes to the latter three issues, Clarkson may well end up as a 25-point player this season, even if he plays as well as he did with the Devils.
And it's hard to fault the player for the role, expectations and salary he has been dealt by his team.
"He's had his fair share of chances," Carlyle said. "He's a little bit snake bitten, but if he continues to go to the net the way he's been going, and we continue to get pucks directed around him, he'll score some goals for us. We believe that."
"I wasn't a 50 goal scorer that was brought in here strictly to score 50 goals," Clarkson said. "So I'm going to go out there and play the same way. I feel good out there on the ice. Things are happening. Whether it's throwing a body check or a fight, whatever I have to do to help this team win."
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