Maple Leafs & Golden Knights Swap Sparks, Clarkson

The Toronto Maple Leafs have acquired David Clarkson and a 2020 fourth-round pick from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for backup goaltender Garret Sparks.

The Maple Leafs are actually re-acquiring Clarkson, after sending him to the Columbus Blue Jackets back in 2015. The 35-year-old played just 26 games for the Blue Jackets before a career-ending back injury in 2016. Clarkson was then sent to the Golden Knights ahead of the expansion draft.

Clarkson is entering the final year of a seven-year, $36.75 million deal that was, coincidently, signed with the Maple Leafs. His actual salary this season will be just $1 million, but Toronto will be placing the forward on long-term injured reserve (LTIR).

Sparks has been in the Maple Leafs’ system ever since he was drafted in 2011, 190th overall in the seventh round. Since then, he’s played 37 NHL games, split between the 2015-16 and 2018-19 seasons. His record is 14-18-2, with a 3.09 goals against average (GAA) and a .898 save percentage (SV%).

Sparks’ value has really come in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies. There, he’s played 121 games, going 80-28-5 with a 2.12 GAA and a .927 SV%. He’s also played 27 playoff games, with a record of 17-8-0 and a 2.27 GAA and .914 SV%. His Toronto career is highlighted by a Calder Cup with the Marlies in 2018.

Maple Leafs, Golden Knights Save Money; Enough to Re-sign Marner?

The Golden Knights would have had to pay 20 percent of Clarkson’s $1 million ($200,000), as insurance only covers 80 percent. But it seems they didn’t want to have to pay that. The very deep-pocketed Maple Leafs were more than willing to pay that sum to move a goaltender who struggled last season, get a pick in a very deep 2020 NHL Draft, and give themselves a little cap room.

Maple Leafs, David Clarkson
The Toronto Maple Leafs have re-acquired David Clarkson (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Because Clarkson is on LTIR, his cap hit ($5.25 million) doesn’t affect the Maple Leafs’s cap hit. By sending Sparks away, the team actually saves his $750,000 cap hit that was signed just back in March.

The Maple Leafs still have a big move to make: re-signing Mitch Marner. With this trade, the team can now build a team with a salary cap of $92.05 million this summer. Then, placing Clarkson and Nathan Horton on LTIR will cover the $10.55 million difference above the cap. That should be enough to get their star forward under contract.

Trading away Sparks and taking on the Clarkson contract may be a steep price to pay, but getting an additional pick and perhaps creating the room to re-sign their star player may be worth it. It seems that once again, general manager Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs have dug themselves out of a hole that not many thought they could get out of.

Sparks Gets Fresh Start with Golden Knights

As mentioned, Sparks didn’t have the best season for the Maple Leafs. In 20 games, he went 8-9-1, with a 3.15 GAA and a .902 SV%, backing up starter Fredrik Andersen. His performance in the regular season led to him losing his role to Michael Hutchinson for the playoffs.

With the Golden Knights, Sparks gets another chance to bring his AHL success to the NHL level. Marc-Andre Fleury has the number one spot locked down, but the number two spot could be open to some competition. Malcolm Subban has held down the role, but Sparks could challenge him for that.

Subban has performed better in the NHL than the new arrival, but if the trade gives Sparks a push, he could make it interesting.

For the Maple Leafs, it looks like their backup position is open as well. Just after the trade, the team signed goaltender Michal Neuvirth to a professional tryout. It looks like Toronto and Vegas will have some goaltending battles in training camp.