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Trying to Figure Out David Clarkson

David Clarkson didn't have the best season last year, as he missed a total of 36 games (13 due to a broken fibula, then another 23 from an additional leg injury).  Still, he put up 11 goals on 106 shots (11.4 Sh%), tallied 13 assists, and played like Randy McKay Version 2.0.   Not great numbers, but injuries really did hold him back, and for $800,000, one can't complain too loudly about the production.

Way back in June, Kevin took a stab at comparing Clarkson to some other players to figure out what he was worth at the time.  Clarkson was a pending restricted free agent, and Kevin concluded that, projected over a full 82 game season, Clarkson could have put up over 200 shots and reach the 20 goal mark for the first time in his career assuming all things being equal last season.  Not a bad projection for a physical player like Clarkson.  So Kevin figured on a $2.15 million per year cap hit as a reasonable outcome.  Just before free agency began that summer, the New Jersey Devils clearly thought more highly of Clarkson and re-signed him to a 3 year, $8 million deal - a cap hit of $2.66 million per year. 

With the Devils are approaching the end of the first quarter of the season, well, I don't think there's any question as to whether Clarkson is earning his keep.  He's not (along with most of the New Jersey Devils team).

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG GWG Fenwick Corsi SOG PCT
2010 - David Clarkson 15 1 1 2 -9 34 0 0 -3 -13 43 2.3

However, I'm still trying to figure out what's going on with Clarkson.  Sure, he may be ultimately a tweener between a second scoring line spot and a grittier third line role; but good teams in this league have players throughout the lineup putting in good performances. While I can't say Clarkson isn't causing the Devils to suffer, he's not helping and that in of itself is cause to focus on the player.  He wasn't handed a 3 year, $8 million deal

Therefore, I have to ask:  Is he doing as well as he possibly could and some rotten luck makes him look worse than he has been; or is it just a simple case of where he's just been plain bad?   After the jump, I present what I know and have seen about Clarkson in the hopes that maybe you, the reader, can help remove my confusion.

Shots, Shots, and More Shots

One of the biggest arguments that I see in favor of Clarkson putting in a good effort is his shots on goal total.   IGenerally, if a player is able to put up shots on net, it means he's in positions to shoot; the puck is in the offensive end, he has an open lane, etc.  Getting shots is a positive

Clarkson has 43 shots on goal so far this season. This currently places him tied for 34th in the entire league and second on the Devils (behind Zach Parise's 47).  To put it in perspective, f he can somehow keep this current pace up, then he'd have 235 shots in an 82 game season - a projection that would have placed him 35th in shots in the league last season.  It's an impressive pace, and to do it, you have to be consistent about getting shots. Clarkson has done just that so far this season.  He's only gone three games without a shot on goal and only one where he got only one.  Taking it a step further, while Behind the Net's numbers here are old by 4 games, Clarkson has a decent shooting distance at 5-on-5 hockey: 29.6 feet averaged over all shots.  That suggests to me that he isn't just firing long glancing shots, he does get close to the net.

His shooting in terms of quantity has been impressive, more so when one consider that Clarkson has been moving about from line to line between and during games.  Note the shooting percentage of 2.3%. That's pitiful, and (more importantly), way below the 10.8 and 10.6 he shot in the last two seasons.  Perhaps his true mean isn't as high as 10%, but I highly doubt he's truly as bad as 2-3%.   By the same token, I'm not as confident in Clarkson being the second most prolific shot-taker on this team much less him remaining as

If there's anyone symbolic of the terrible luck that plagues this team, it has to be Clarkson.  Eventually, more of these pucks have to go in. When they do, we'll think better of him.

The Production Thus Far

With only two points to speak of, all I can say: let's go the video tape.

To recap: One goal off a complete fluke (fitting that an atrociously unfortunate shooter gets a total gift) and a secondary assist.  Clarkson wasn't even going to the net when Jason Arnott passed it to Matt Taormina at the point; it was Dainius Zubrus coming across.   I think it's somewhat telling (and sadly ironic) that his two points came as a result of being in the right place rather than result of hard work or a great on-ice decision.

But, again, this is mitigated by his amount of shots - I doubt he has been as lucky to get 43 shots on net so far this season.

You Can't Score if You Don't Shoot. You Can't Shoot if You're in the Penalty Box

David Clarkson is a physical player. His hitting (28 "official" hits on the team, second behind Colin White's 35) and tendency to drop the gloves have endeared him to many Devils fans in his short career. With big body presence, though, comes whistles from the referees.  Clarkson has improved on his penalties in minutes total in his first three seasons: from 183 to 164 to 85 (151 projected over 82 games).  

However, Clarkson isn't on pace to "increase the peace," so to speak.  He has 34 minutes already, putting him on pace for 185-186 minutes.  Granted, it's early enough in the season for a few non-fighting majors to skew the results.  Then again, a player usually has to do something incredibly dumb to get a non-fighting major.  Something like, oh, hitting Brian Boyle from behind into the boards. Which is exactly what he did in his last game against the Rangers. 

Sure it's only one major among his three fighting majors, but it adds to the number of times the Devils went shorthanded.  Each of Clarkson's 7 minors (Note: 4 of those 7 were for a kind of interference, 3 of which are goalie interference minors) along with his non-fighting major led to PK situations for New Jersey.  Clarkson, unfortunately, leads the team in that category.  While the opposition has scored only one of them, that's time his teammates have to spend defending, time the opposition uses to pin the Devils back, time that forces New Jersey to not attack normally.  All while he's sitting in the box.  Not good.

We can quibble on how legit those calls were, but Clarkson's not helping the team when he's taking calls.   There's value in being physical and I know that's one of his calling cards; he just needs to be smarter about it.

Defense? What About His Defense?

I'm going to have to punt on this one.  Clarkson has played with several different linemates, various defensive pairings (who've had their own issues at times), and has seen different matchups.  Normally, I'd like to look at quality of competition, quality of teammates, and on-ice/off-ice shot rate differential to get an idea of what's going on when he's on the ice.   Behind the Net's data, for some reason, lists Clarkson as only playing 10 games instead of the 15 he has done.

Plus/Minus isn't a very good stat to go on because it punishes players just for being on the ice for goals against.  That said, Clarkson hasn't been a plus player in a single game all season.  Not really an inspiring number, flawed or otherwise.

Corsi and Fenwick gives a better approximation to what's going on when the player is on the ice, as they count up shooting attempts both for and against.   Ideally, you'd like a player to have a high number in Fenwick (shots & missed shots for are larger than shots & missed shots against) and Corsi (add blocks to Fenwick).  It means that when a player is on the ice, the puck is in the opponent's end more often than not as his team is attacking more  than the opposition.

Looking at the individual 5-on-5, non-empty-net Corsi charts for each game tabulated by Vic Ferrari's fantastic Time on Ice, Clarkson came out of October with a positive Fenwick (7) and Corsi (3). That's not bad, he's at least.  However, so far in this early November, Clarkson has been terrible with a combined -10 Fenwick and -17 Corsi in 3 games.    While the Devils as a whole got rolled against Chicago (featuring a brutal second period); the Devils were mostly positive against Vancouver and very positive against the Rangers, and Clarkson was decidedly negative in all three games.  Sure, a team who's behind in the game will try to be more aggressive and take more attempts to shoot, but it's not good when Clarkson was one of the few Devils with a negative Fenwick and Corsi coming out of those games.

Over this short season so far, I've noticed that Clarkson's game-by-game Fenwick and Corsi has gone through peaks and valleys.   He's positive or at zero in the first five games; then he's negative for his next three (including his worst Corsi to date against Boston); positive for the next two; negative for the following two games; positive in LA; and then negative in the last three.   I don't know whether it's because of the situations John MacLean is putting him in, or whether Clarkson is just this inconsistent.  

What Can Be Done About David Clarkson Right Now?

I think Clarkson can make some improvements.  Taking fewer penalties that put the Devils shorthanded would definitely help.  It's something Clarkson has been able to improve upon a little bit.   From what I've seen, it means trying to stay in front of the goalie instead of so close to get in contact with him; keep his temper; and understand that he can't hit a dude from behind into the boards.  I think Clarkson can manage this regardless of his ridiculously low shooting percentage.

As far as his rising and falling Corsi, this is partially on the coaches as it is on Clarkson.   It wouldn't hurt Clarkson to look at his defensive work on tape and identify what he needs to work on, understanding what decisions he needs to make in certain situations.  It would also help Clarkson out if MacLean makes adjustments faster.  In the Chicago game, for example, Clarkson's line got pounded before the Blackhawks generally ran roughshod over all of the Devils' lines   He was moved to a different unit later in the third period; but the coaches have to recognize when the opposition is beating up on him among match-ups faster.  If only to put Clarkson in a potentially better situation for the good of the team (lines that get out-played tend to be there to allow goals against).

Still, the biggest blotch on Clarkson's season to date has nothing to do with coaches and possibly not Clarkson either.   His prolific shooting rate is in spite his average ice time of just under 14 minutes a game.  Sadly, there's no easy cure for bad luck.  If one existed, then you'd have an unstoppable player.   So all Clarkson can do about not scoring is to keep putting up shots.  If some of those shots went in, as opposed to putting up fluke points, then we'd be happier with his performances and his contract.  So I still remain confused on how to regard Mr. Clarkson. My original question is left up in the air.  Is he really working hard and just unlucky; or is he just not that good this season?

Therefore, I want to know your take.  What have you noticed from David Clarkson? What do you think MacLean and the coaches should do with Clarkson? What, other than scoring some goals, would you like to see Clarkson do more of on the ice?  What would you want him to do less on the ice?  What does David Clarkson have to do to have a better season and come closer to justifying his cap hit?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on David Clarkson in the comments. Thanks for reading.