Trading David Clarkson’s Contract Would be a Monumental Mistake

At least for the rumored price, that is.

David Clarkson has 3 more years of his contact left, each with a cap hit $5.25 million. David Clarkson was on long term injured reserve (LTIR for the rest of the article) last season, removing his dollars from the cap calculations against the Blue Jackets and allowing them to end the season under the cap figure of $73 million. David Clarkson, as reported by the Columbus Dispatch, has taken a job at Upper Arlington High School as the varsity hockey head coach and will likely never play again.

All of this information is unquestionably true. Those facts are what make the following tweet so perplexing:

On the surface, that tweet makes no sense. Why would the Blue Jackets give up a first round pick along with a prospect just to get rid of a player who doesn’t even count against the salary cap during the season? This makes even less sense just as Columbus’ window is beginning to open to contend. Is giving up potential future contributors worth getting rid of Clarkson’s contract?

Let’s find out what could be motivating the front office to make this move.

There is a monster deal in the works.

Teams are able to exceed the salary cap by 10% in the summer. Often, teams (such as the Blue Jackets) can exceed the cap in the summer by just slightly less than what Clarkson’s contract is worth, place him on LTIR once the season starts, and be cap compliant (though very close to the cap).

It is possible that the team is trying to hit a home run on the trade market this summer? Alexander Ovechkin is rumored to be available (though that would likely cost a fortune). Ilya Kovalchuk may return to North America, but no one is really sure of his value via trade or contract. Jonathan Drouin may be available out of Tampa Bay. Evander Kane, Sami Vatanen, and Keith Yandle rumors have been floated league wide.

It’s possible Jarmo has reached out regarding each of those players; in fact, I’d say it’s nearly certain that he has just simply doing his due diligence as a general manager. But it is hard to see a path in which the Columbus Blue Jackets are power players for any of those trade scenarios right now.

The team wants flexibility to go for it.

This is, admittedly, a bit more plausible. The Blue Jackets could find themselves in a scenario at the trade deadline next season that again sees them near the top of the NHL standings. Rather than standing pat, the team could swing for the fences with a major trade in an effort to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup. For a team that has never so much as won a playoff series, going all in would be a monstrous decision for the front office.

Doing so would require flexibility, flexibility that does not presently exist within the construct of the current cap situation. Trading Clarkson’s contract, however, does not alleviate that in-season lack of flexibility. As noted earlier, Clarkson’s contract does not count in salary cap considerations during the season - any relief from the cap to add a major piece would have to come via shedding active roster contracts. Trading Clarkson could allow the team to add a piece under contract for multiple seasons (in case offseason cap issues arose), but it would not affect trade deadline deals if the team wanted to truly go all in.

The team wants to protect the kids

This would be almost essential for giving up that steep of a price to take Clarkson’s contract (while Vegas would also take a lesser name such as Matt Calvert), but is it the sole motivating factor for this deal? As discussed in Matt’s article the other day, if the Blue Jackets cannot convince Scott Hartnell to waive his no-movement clause, players that the team seriously wants to protect might become available for selection: Josh Anderson, William Karlsson, and Joonas Korpisalo among them. Are they worth giving up that much for, though?

Josh Anderson: 23 years old, 96 GP (career), 18-16-34 (career), 29 points last season, 46.9 CF% last season, 1-1-2 in 5 career playoff games

William Karlsson: 24 years old, 183 GP (career), 18-32-50 (career), 6-19-25 last season, 45.3 faceoff percent last season, 45.6 faceoff percent career, 2-1-3 in 5 career playoff games

Joonas Korpisalo: 23 years old, 45 GP (career), 23-16-5 career, .915 SV% (career), 2.68 GAA (career), 1 career shutout

Each of those players is decent ... but does anything really jump off the page? Josh Anderson stands out the most (in my opinion). William Karlsson and Joonas Korpisalo I would consider equally expendable (Korpisalo because of Anton Forsberg and eventually Elvis Merzkelins; Karlsson because of Lukas Sedlak, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and how he was eaten for lunch defensively in the playoffs).

To give up a prospect and a pick now, as the window is just opening, for the sole purpose of keeping those aforementioned players here seems like a losing trade for the Blue Jackets. As a part of a larger deal or plan, I don’t hate the deal. On its own, it is extremely underwhelming.

Ownership doesn’t want to pay for a player who cannot play.

We have seen this movie before. When the team signed Nathan Horton, the front office did not insure the contract. Horton’s back gave out, the front office had him traded to Toronto for a player whose contract was insured and could provide some on-ice value. Now, the team is going through the same scenario again as a result of the initial terrible deal.

What could be motivating the team to trade this contract now? Is it simply to get out of paying whatever part of the contract the team must commit to? Is the contract uninsured despite what Team President John Davidson has said to the contrary? TO BE CLEAR: I do not believe it is uninsured and will not until John Davidson says otherwise. All of which begs the question, however: why is this suddenly a thing?

Obviously, I am not in the front office and I am not entitled to hearing the everyday conversations that go on in the Nationwide Arena offices. This contract and trade could be part of a larger plan that I have no idea about.

But (there’s always a but with these things):

The window for the Blue Jackets is just now beginning to open. One could argue the team was ahead of schedule last season. Any picks or prospects in the pipeline will be ready to contribute in 2, 3, or 4 years when the team is really ready to make that leap into the top tier of contending teams.

4 years can mean a lot for a prospect and the team that drafts him. 4 years ago, some kid named Jake Guentzel was drafted. You might have heard about him lately. By giving up valued picks and prospects already in the pipeline (be it Vitaly Abramov, Dean Kukan, or Sonny Milano), the Blue Jackets would be risking the future for the now for reasons that are not entirely clear.

Again, this could all be part of a larger plan to swing for the fences, or sign Cam Atkinson to a $5 million deal, or something else. We don’t know. And, for that reason, I am against this trade at this present moment. It hasn’t limited the team, it doesn’t appear that it will going forward, and the team should get more for a first round pick and prospect than Vegas’ word that they won’t take a center with a 45% career faceoff percentage or a .500 goaltender.

The Blue Jackets must get more in this deal.

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