TORONTO – David Clarkson’s 10-game suspension means he won’t make his Toronto Maple Leafs regular-season debut until Oct. 25.
But that doesn’t mean the right-winger won’t be taking on a heavy workload from now until then. Coach Randy Carlyle plans on playing Clarkson in the Leafs’ final two pre-season games to keep him “as game-ready as possible.”
“I’m not going to be playing for quite a while,” Clarkson said. “It’s to get ready for what’s ahead, and I’ll work twice as hard in practice to make sure I’m ready, do extra and do all those little things.”
Clarkson played 13:19 and picked up an assist in Tuesday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators, the first game he played since the NHL suspended him for leaving the bench to join a line brawl against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night.
That was just the beginning of what’s part penance and part necessary conditioning that comes with being unavailable to play for so long. Clarkson will travel with the Leafs to Montreal and Philadelphia for the first two games, Carlyle said, and it’s his intention to provide some value in practice.
“I’m going to push these guys in those first 10 games to be better and I’m going to do why they brought me here,” Clarkson said. “I’m going to do those things in practice, and I’m going to train extra hard to get ready right when that 10-game point ends.”
Clarkson called himself a cheerleader because he can’t look back and choose not to hop off the bench to defend star Phil Kessel against John Scott. He understands he hurt the Leafs, who will have to try to fit under the salary cap for opening night and beyond with the handicap of his $5.25-million hit tying them down.
“I think what I can give back is by me being ready when the situation happened is by me pushing these guys in practice, helping out with young guys, talking to guys,” Clarkson said. “But just being very supportive. I think that’s really all I can do is do those things now.”
Support goes both ways. Clarkson appreciated Carlyle just being “there” for him and mentioned that he received text messages from players around the league offering kind words.
“Every guy in this locker-room thanked me or said something kind to me and said some words that those mean more to a player than anything,” he said. “It’s a tough decision still sitting here today, but I’ve made that decision and I’m going to go out there and work hard to get back and help the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
For the next month, Clarkson is not much more than a glorified practice player. Payments on his $4.5-million salary won’t begin until he’s done serving his suspension, which he accepted without appeal.
Now his attention turns to what he can give the team that invested so richly in him this past summer.
“I’m going to be there to support guys in the locker-room,” Clarkson said. “We’ve got a great group of guys in here, we’ve got a great hockey team, we’ve got a great coaching staff, and so I think with what we have in play here and what the plans are, we’ll come out and compete every night and win or lose we’re going to go hard and compete every single night.”