Breaking Down the Nathan Horton-David Clarkson Trade


A struggling team trades a player who’s been on injured reserve all year to another non-contending team and, in return, receives a player that many consider to be an underachiever given his hefty contract. On its surface, the trade that sent winger Nathan Horton from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Toronto Maple Leafs for David Clarkson on Thursday seems rather surprising. Peel back the layers, however, and it quickly becomes clear that this move had very little to do with getting results on the ice.

“This deal’s all about financials for us,” admitted Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen early on in the press conference announcing the Clarkson-for-Horton trade. Horton, who’s suffering from a degenerative back condition, will likely never again take to the ice for another NHL game. The $25 million still owed to him in the remaining five years of his contract, per, is quite the albatross around the neck of the Jacket’s operating budget. The Leafs, who can’t burn their barn to the ground fast enough, have deep pockets and can pay Horton to sit on the sidelines.

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What Toronto doesn’t necessarily have is salary cap wiggle room. Clarkson’s $5.25 million cap hit is comparable to Horton’s, but the upside for the Jackets is they get a player who can take to the ice immediately and, hopefully, produce results. At least, that’s the plan. “We get a player…,” explained Jarmo, “who we believe fits our needs very well, our identity, and many of the qualities that we believe in Columbus and the Blue Jackets that we’re looking for.”

So what does that mean, exactly? Jarmo referred to Clarkson as a “gritty” player who was a 30-goal scorer with Stanley Cup Finals experience during his time with the New Jersey Devils. That’s true, to a degree. Clarkson did score 30 goals during the 2011-12 season, also tallying 16 assists and earning 138 penalty minutes – all of which were career highs that he has not come close to repeating. It was an anomalous year and one which should not be used to judge his potential. Excluding 2011-12, Clarkson averages about 14 goals a season and, with 10 in the 58 games he’s played so far, looks to be just slightly ahead of schedule.

To paraphrase Jarmo, the Nathan Horton-David Clarkson trade was all about the Benjamins. While initially benefiting both the Blue Jackets and the Maple Leafs, Toronto may very well be the long-term winners in this deal as the Jackets struggle to find a place for, or offload, Clarkson’s contract burden.

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