Opinion: Clarkson defended by Leaf teammates despite indefensible actions

Gritty forward failing his new squad with poor decision-making

David Clarkson jumped off the bench during the line brawl in Sunday's game, earning himself an automatic 10-game suspenion. (Photo: Toronto Maple Leafs)
David Clarkson jumped off the bench during the line brawl in Sunday’s game, earning himself an automatic 10-game suspenion. (Photo: Toronto Maple Leafs)

About four hours’ worth of penalties were handed out during the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 5-3 preseason victory over the Buffalo Sabres, but there should have been 15 minutes less.

Let’s not forget about the suspension, with a possible second on the way.

Sometime during the third period line brawl, David Clarkson left the bench and engaged in a scuffle with Sabres enforcer John Scott, earning himself a five-minute major, a ten-minute misconduct and an automatic ten-game vacation.

Phil Kessel may find himself sitting for some time as well for trying to lop Scott’s leg off, though many have argued that it was in self-defence.

The signing of Clarkson, a 29-year-old Mimico native, back in July was meant to infuse the Leafs with toughness, some scoring, and a hometown flavour.

His contract is a seven-year, $36.75 million pact and perhaps he might have been trying too hard to justify the dollars.

Clarkson’s teammates, quite predictably, defended him.

“I guess emotions just kind of flared,” said Nazem Kadri. “[Joffrey Lupul] actually had to drag me back in the bench and tried to get a hold of Clarky, but he was kind of up and at it. It was a bit of a tough play, tough decision-making, and we all understand it happens sometimes.”

Even though it is understood that leaving the bench to fight merits an automatic suspension, Leaf forward Joe Colborne did not blame Clarkson at all for his decision, which was immediately lambasted by some media and fans on Twitter.

“I think every single guy on our bench was looking to jump out there,” said Colborne. “You see a mismatch out there and you don’t want to leave your teammate out to dry.

“I think there were about 15 guys sitting on the bench trying to clamber over and you kind of have to sit back, kind of grab each other and collectively try to hold back.”

When Leo Komarov bolted to the Kontinental Hockey League this past offseason in search of more playing time and presumably more money, the Leafs lost a heat-seeking missile.

In Clarkson, they regained another. And, just like that, they’ve lost him for an extended period of time.

He was not made available to the media following the game, which may or may not have been the wisest move.

On one hand, perhaps the organization did not want Clarkson admitting his guilt before the National Hockey League handed down an official suspension.

On the other, they could have cleared the air about the incident and eliminated the speculation around his decision to leave the bench.

Head coach Randy Carlyle himself did not understand why his player chose to, in essence, ask the league for a 10-game suspension.

“Obviously we’re not proud or happy of what went on, that’s for sure, and I think Dave Clarkson made a mistake,” said Carlyle.

“I didn’t even realize he’d left the bench until I saw the video of it. Everyone’s attention was on Scott glued to Phil Kessel … he has his reasons, obviously he didn’t explain them to me.”

According to reports, Clarkson will forfeit about $270,000 in salary. Of course, if the Leafs get off to a slow start during the regular season, he’ll have a lot more to worry about than lost cash.

While his teammates were quick to defend him to the media like they were on the ice when Scott sort of jumped Kessel, the act that started the fracas in the first place, coach Carlyle found himself unable to fully stand behind Clarkson.

“There’s no way to defend it,” he said in a resigned tone. “[We just have to] accept what went on and move forward.”