David Clarkson suspension could be a seminal moment in Leafs history

Oct 4, 2013 by

David Clarkson suspension could be a seminal moment in Leafs history

It’s rare that an exhibition game could be a turning point for a team’s direction in a season or even longer but a pre-season game for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sept. 22, 2013 versus the Buffalo Sabres might mark such an occasion for MLSE’s marquee franchise.   Most people won’t remember that Jonathan Bernier showed flashes of acrobatic brilliance reminiscent of Mike Palmateer or that Phil Kessel effortlessly scored two goals in a Leafs 5-3 win at the Air Canada Centre.  What will be remembered is the fight filled 3rd period that saw Toronto’s Jamie Devane knock out Corey Tropp (breaking his jaw and knocking him out of the line-up for 6 weeks) which in turn triggered a series of events that featured Kessel recklessly swing his stick to fend off Buffalo enforcer John Scott; Ryan Miller and Bernier duel in a goalie fight and David Clarkson leaving the bench early to come to the defence of Kessel, resulting in an automatic 10 game suspension.

Clarkson’s actions were honorable but the consequences are predetermined and severe enough that he should have known better.  This past off-season he was brought in as high-end free agent from New Jersey for his combination of toughness, skill and leadership, but on this night he overreacted to an incident in an irrelevant game.  The team will now have to play without one of its core players for what appears to be an emotional and largely irresponsible move by Clarkson.  Interestingly, this team may have been galvanized by the incident and behind the stellar goaltending of both Bernier and James Reimer and opportunistic scoring the Toronto Maple Leafs have begun the 2013-14 campaign with a 2-0 start.  It’s an exciting start to a season for a team with elevated expectations and more teams to contend with for a playoff spot due to realignment and more restrictive rules for playoff qualification.  It’s still early but a strong start or at least the avoidance of a disastrous start is important for both the Leafs success this year and the perception of the Clarkson incident.

If the Leafs should falter in the remaining eight games while Clarkson sits in the press-box and they lose 6 straight or 7 of 8, or some other awful combination, the remainder of the season Clarkson will have to answer to the media and the fans for his noble but absent-minded transgression.  On the flip side, if the Leafs win 7 of 10 or go 6-3-2, his actions will largely be seen as a unifying incident, one that brought the team together and worth the short-term punishment of his suspension.  In isolation, the act of coming to the defence of his teammates is one that most people can understand and for many fans it’s an act that should be celebrated.  If the consequences were less severe I would clearly be sitting on the latter side of the argument; however, the problem is that very little separates the middle tier of playoff contenders and the loss of key personnel could mean the difference between making the playoffs and having an early golf season.  The Leafs aren’t rich enough in talent to overcome this long of an absence by a key player, but perhaps the emotion of that evening can spill into the season long enough to be a rallying point for the group in an effort to overcome Clarkson’s mistake. If that should unfold the Clarkson suspension could be remembered as a defining moment this season and potentially modern Leafs history.  If they should go on to make the playoffs this year and have a more successful playoff run than last season, followed by further growth and championship calibre contention in the coming years, a meaningless exhibition game will be referenced as a key moment in this team’s development.

Another outcome that resulted out of the preseason mash-up was Phil Kessel’s suspension for the remainder of the exhibition games for his reckless stick swinging that night.  The importance wasn’t his suspension, but that it forced him to speak with GM David Nonis in preparation of his hearing with the NHL disciplinarians, which incidentally resulted in him expressing interest to re-sign with the Leafs long-term prior to the start of this season.  Perhaps the events of the exhibition game on September 22 played a role in his decision, or perhaps it was incidental. What we do know is that after that night Kessel knew he wanted to remain a Maple Leaf for the prime of his career and truly become the face of the team for a generation to come after agreeing to an 8 year $64 million dollar extension. Officially we can now say the Kessel era in Toronto has truly begun, we can also say a seemingly meaningless exhibition game in September could play a pivotal role in the success or failure of this years’ team.  Its reach could go even further and be a seminal point for future success or failure; for Leafs fans let’s hope its the former.




  1. Adam Grenda

    I agree, I was also at that game. Who would have thought there would be much to talk about after a seemingly meaningless pre-season game? I really like Bernier this year as a number 1 goalie, assuming he stays relatively consistent. Just wait for the rematch during the regular season!!

  2. I like Bernier as well Adam – I think he will be a household name in Toronto by Christmas. The rematch will be hard to top that exhibition game, but Toronto and Buffalo play a back to back Nov 15-16 and you can be sure there will be a lot of bad blood spilled that weekend. Thanks for commenting Adam.

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