Earlier this evening, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson ($5.25M cap hit through 2020) to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nathan Horton ($5.3M cap hit through 2020). In this deal, two horrible contracts were traded for each other, but the deal actually helps both clubs. Here’s a breakdown of how each team benefits from the trade.
Toronto: Toronto signed David Clarkson to a 7-year, $36.75M contract during the 2013 offseason and it has been criticized ever since as he’s put up just 26 points in 118 contests in a Maple Leafs sweater. Clarkson’s puck possession has also struggled while with Toronto posting a 43.8% Corsi rating over the past two seasons while Toronto as a team has posted a 44.4% Corsi rating. Clarkson’s contract seemed to be immovable because of his poor production, the length of his contract, and the high annual cap hit.
In Nathan Horton, Toronto receives a talented forward who scored clutch goals to help the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011. That is, if he ever plays hockey again. Due to a bad back injury, Horton is doubtful to lace up the skates ever again. Toronto can put Horton on long term injured reserve (LTIR) freeing up his $5.3M cap hit allowing Toronto flexibility in both working under the salary cap and an additional roster spot. Toronto is also the most lucrative team in the league and will have no problem spending an extra $5M and change to get out of the obligation to pay $5M to a poorly producing player.
The possibility of Horton coming back is an extra benefit for Toronto. Horton, 29 years old, will still have a lot of upside in him even if it takes a few years of rehab before making his return to hockey. I wouldn’t expect Horton’s return to be a major point of Toronto’s long-term goals, but it could be beneficial to a younger core that will start to mature by 2017-2018.
Columbus: Columbus’ situation is very similar to Toronto’s. They signed Horton to a 7 year, $37.1M on the same day as Toronto signed Clarkson. Horton suffered a shoulder injury the prior season with Boston and missed the first half of the 2013-2014 season. Since, Horton has played just 36 games in a Columbus sweater before suffering the serious back injury that has put his career in jeopardy.
Columbus is a team that always spends well below the salary cap ($14.6M+ below the $69M cap before the trade) so they can take on the Clarkson contract without having to move any other pieces. Without this trade occurring, Columbus would have to pay Horton the $5M+ whether or not he was playing. The benefit for Columbus taking on Clarkson’s contract comes in the form of a body they get to use in return for the money they’re spending.
A big gamble they’re taking on however is Clarkson’s production. Will they get the effective power forward that Clarkson was while he was with New Jersey putting up 30-40 points per year or the more recent struggling Clarkson that played in Toronto? Only time will tell what Columbus is really getting out of this deal.
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