did what he did for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to protect a star teammate from imminent danger.
When he saw big Buffalo Sabres left-winger John Scott trying to goad Phil Kessel into a fight in the pre-season.
Clarkson left the bench to intercede. Turns out he really wasn't needed. While a series of fights did break out, Kessel had teammates on the ice that helped keep Scott away from him. Oh, and he also took two baseball-style swings and a spear at Scott, too.
Nevertheless, Clarkson was dinged with a mandatory 10-game suspension
. That's the NHL's way of deterring bench-clearing brawls, and it has been very effective since the 1970s when such occurrences were all the rage.
Clarkson left the bench mainly to protect Kessel from a six-foot-eight, 270-pound behemoth, but he also did it to prove to his new teammates and fans that he's a good teammate. And he's a leader. And he'll pay a price. That's why the Toronto Maple Leafs signed him away from the New Jersey Devils and that's why the Maple Leafs are a better team with him than they were a year ago without him.
The question is, after sitting out the first 10 games of the season and forfeiting $269,230.80 US in salary, would he do it again?
"It's a tough question," Clarkson admitted. "Different situations call for different measures and I've been a part of things that have gone differently, gone the other way. You just never know. I think you learn from things and I made a decision with my heart, not my head. I also try to play with my heart on my sleeve and play that same way all the time, so the part of sitting out was tough. The fact that we got through it as a team and the guys did an unbelievable job -- even the guys we brought up [from the AHL Marlies] -- played great to fill the void."
With the dust settled, the 29-year-old Toronto native will make his long-awaited debut
for the Maple Leafs in Columbus Friday night. He has a well-earned reputation for being a feisty competitor, but he does not expect to come out with both guns blazing against the Blue Jackets.
"It's easy, when you've been suspended, to come back into the lineup and try to overdo things, but I've got to just come in and take it step by step and do what I was brought here to do," Clarkson said. "That is to go around the net, put the puck in the net, be physical and be good in my own zone. I have to do all those things without trying to do too much."
It goes without saying that Clarkson is champing at the bit to get into a regular-season game with the team he grew up loving. It hasn't been a lot of fun simply training and trying to stay in game shape, but it helps that his team got off to a 7-3-0 start without him. The Maple Leafs are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Eastern Conference standings.
"It's been tough, but at the end of the day luckily enough here in Toronto we have a great staff and I was able to do a lot off the ice to get ready," Clarkson said. "The boys have been winning, which makes it easier, and at the same time I got to watch some hockey, but I've watched enough and I'm ready to get back at it."Orr plays beautiful game
The Maple Leafs showed up to MasterCard Centre Wednesday morning prepared to practice, but were surprised to find coach Randy Carlyle didn't want them on the ice. Instead, they went outdoors and played a game of soccer.
One of the biggest surprises was tough guy Colton Orr
's ability to keep the ball out of the net as a goaltender. Orr played high-level soccer growing up in Winnipeg.
"He was definitely the first star," said centre Nazem Kadri. "He was the reason why his team was in the game."McClement winging itJay McClement
was brought to Toronto to be a checking centre and solid penalty killer, but of late has spent more time patrolling the left wing.
"I've gotten used to it over the last two years," McClement said. "Randy Carlyle has moved me around a lot so I just have to be focused on the bench and aware of what position I'm playing the next shift. I've been on the right wing a bit, too. I have to know where I should be at all times. Even playing centre you end up on the wing quite a bit in our own end. I am happy to do whatever helps our lineup."Rielly close to rookie limit
With eight NHL games under his belt, Morgan Rielly
is getting close to the moment of truth. If he plays in Columbus Friday, the Maple Leafs will have to make a decision on whether they want to play him a 10th game, which would blow a year off his entry-level contract.
He could still be sent back to junior if they want to preserve that year on his deal and if they feel he isn't quite ready. So far he has looked very good.
"You know what, I'm not too worried about what is going to happen," Rielly said. "I know it's my last game of the tryout so I'm just going to go out and play hard and keep doing what I have been doing."
Asked if he has a good feeling about his situation, Rielly said, "I'm not sure. I haven't heard anything from anybody. I'm sure after the game I'll know what is happening. So we'll have to wait and see. We have some pretty good players here and to go back to junior really wouldn't be the end of the world. That could possibly happen still so I just have to wait and see."Leivo leaves
The Maple Leafs assigned rookie right-winger Josh Leivo
to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League Wednesday morning. The six-foot-two, 180-pound third-round draft pick from 2011 made a solid impression right from the opening game at Toronto's rookie camp in London, Ont., where he and Morgan Rielly demonstrated they were miles ahead of most of the other club's prospects.
Although Leivo started the season with the Marlies, picking up one assist in two AHL games, he was recalled by the Maple Leafs after Nikolai Kulemin was injured and has looked very good in an offensive role during his six games in the NHL. He leaves, for now, with a goal -- a beauty against Carolina's Cam Ward -- and two points.
"He's a good player who definitely knows his way around the rink," Kadri said of Leivo. "I'm sure you'll be seeing him back up here soon. He's a smart player who understands puck management. That's an important thing when you are in the NHL, not to have crucial turnovers in crucial areas."