Like the New Jersey Devils, David Clarkson started the season on fire: he had 10 goals in their first 14 games (9-2-3). Also like his employers, Clarkson struggled the remainder of the 2013 NHL season — the 29-year-old right winger potted five goals over their last 34 games (10-17-7). Once the Stanley Cup playoffs are over, the Devils have many decisions to make regarding their roster, including several key players. Clarkson, along with Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Marek Zidlicky, Steve Sullivan, Alexei Ponikarovsky & Peter Harrold are all unrestricted free agents, while Adam Henrique, Andrei Loktionov & Matt D’Agostini are all restricted free agents.
The Devils should trade Clarkson now, meaning before he hits UFA status (perhaps at the NHL Draft) and I have narrowed his likely destinations down to three possibilities: Colorado, St. Louis, or Anaheim. If they don’t he could end up spurning them and going home to Toronto like when his former teammate Zach Parise dumped the Devils last July. All three choices would send the feisty Clarkson to Western Conference teams, an option that GM Lou Lamoriello seems to prefer when swapping major players (see: Petr Sykora, John MacLean, Jason Arnott).
Package Clarkson and Henrik Tallinder to the St. Louis Blues for Chris Stewart (RFA) & a late-round pick.
Stewart, like Clarkson, is a hot & cold player and when we last saw him in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings he was ice-cold. He could give the Devils that consistent, net-mouth presence that they have lacked severely in recent years. Clarkson does that job sometimes, but for whatever reasons he isn’t as effective at it as the Gionta brothers have been for New Jersey. Both Stewart & Clarkson would get a fresh start in a new environment and obviously each would have to ink a new deal with their respective new teams. You can never have enough defensemen, but the Devils have a surplus of young blueliners who could be ready to crack the big league lineup (Jon Merrill, Alex Urbom) so Tallinder would be expendable.
Trade Clarkson and the ninth overall pick to the Colorado Avalanche for Paul Stastny and the Avs 2nd round pick.
Stastny’s dad Peter was a former Devil and if Lamoriello could swipe Paul from Colorado by throwing in the ninth overall pick than I say do it. It’s unlikely that the new regime of the Avs would do a straight up, one-for-one swap, but the allure of continuing their rebuild with two, top-ten picks could be too tasty to pass up. He is still signed for one more season ($6.6 million), and New Jersey can decide after the 2013-14 season if he fits in their long-term plans or not. The Avalanche have a lot of skilled wingers, but other than Steve Downie they really lack grit and toughness among their top-9 forwards. Clarkson would slide right in as a first or second line winger and could also act as a bodyguard for players like Gabriel Landeskog & Matt Duchene.
Devils fans have longed for Ryan (from Cherry Hill, NJ) since the now 26-year-old was selected by the Ducks second overall in the 2006 NHL Draft. Not to mention he would fit quite nicely in that vacated no. 9 jersey, and he could also slide right onto the first line alongside Travis Zajac & Ilya Kovalchuk. This is probably the least likely scenario of the three I listed, because it has seemed that Anaheim has been unlikely to part with Ryan, despite annual rumors that he is on the trading block. But the glimmer of hope is that maybe after an unexpected first round exit in this year’s playoffs Ducks management might finally get serious and trade one of their assets that is not locked-up in a long-term deal.
Chances are that wherever Clarkson plays next season, he will be making more than the $3 million that he made last season and if I were a betting man, I’d bet that he isn’t going to be calling Prudential Center home next season. For a lot of Devils’ fans, it will be a tough pill to swallow because he is a HUMONGOUS BIG fan favorite and he does a lot of great charity work in New Jersey. But his stats are wildly inconsistent from year-to-year and he doesn’t kill penalties or give you much on the defensive side of the puck.
Sorry if I hurt your feelings, Devils fans, but I’m just preparing you for what just seems to be inevitable in my eyes as another homegrown Devil prepares to fly the coop. Clarkson has stated again and again that he wants to stay in New Jersey, and one of his best friends on the team is living legend Martin Brodeur, but as President George W. Bush once said, “fool me once, shame on me, fool me… won’t get fooled again.”
Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org