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David Clarkson’s body 'letting him down,' will miss camp after failing physical

After playing just 23 games in 2015-16, David Clarkson will miss the start of training camp and there’s no clear timeline for his return as he deals with a lower-back injury.

The Columbus Blue Jackets won’t go so far as to say David Clarkson’s career is over, but with four years and $21 million remaining on his contract, it sounds like the 32-year-old is facing a serious lower-back issue that could put him on the shelf for the foreseeable future.

Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson announced Wednesday that Clarkson has failed his physical ahead of training camp, and there’s uncertainty about when, or if, Clarkson will be able to return to the club this campaign. 

"Last season, he missed 59 games, mostly with back problems," Davidson said. "He's tried to train all summer and had real issues with it. He did fail the physical, so he will not be here at the start of camp. He'll be trying to work his way back through rehab, but he's had a tough summer.”

That Clarkson has missed so much time over the past season and that a full off-season hasn’t been enough to get him back to full health is certainly worrying, but Davidson wouldn’t say whether or not he believed the injury would mean the end of Clarkson’s career.

"David's uncomfortable with this whole thing," Davidson said. "He's very disappointed in that he wants to be a hockey player. His body right now is letting him down. He came in and asked us if he could go take his physical so he wasn't going to be asked a million questions. He took his physical and did not pass it.”

It’s not entirely surprising that Clarkson is dealing with some sort of ailment as his past three campaigns have been marred by injury, but the most shocking thing about his failing of the medical exam is the unfortunate coincidence of the situation.

Clarkson’s acquisition by the Blue Jackets was in direct response to Columbus having a long-term deal with Nathan Horton, who was suffering from a career-ending back injury. However, the injury wasn’t the big issue so much as that Horton’s contract wasn’t insured. That meant the Blue Jackets’ were paying Horton out of pocket regardless of his injury status. 

Columbus eventually found a fit with the Toronto Maple Leafs — Horton could offer cap relief on long-term injured reserve and the cash-rich Maple Leafs could afford to pay him — and swapped Horton’s monstrous deal for Clarkson’s, which was a contract that many believed untradeable. Unlike Horton’s contract, however, Clarkson’s deal is insured. That is the slight silver lining for the Blue Jackets in all of this.

The truth is, though, that regardless of Clarkson’s ability to return, his role on the Blue Jackets, and in the league, was diminishing. After averaging more than 17 minutes per game during his final season as a New Jersey Devil in 2012-13, Clarkson’s ice time fell from 15 minutes, to 13 minutes to an average of 9:13 for Columbus in 2015-16.

This past season, Clarkson managed just two goals and four points in the 23 games he played, and he hasn’t scored at a clip of more than .25 points per game since leaving the Devils.

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