This is the first in a series of posts on the Devils' pending free agents (restricted and unrestricted). We'll cover their strengths and weaknesses and end up with a final verdict on whether we think the Devils should re-sign the player. There will also be a poll at the end of each post so you guys can weigh in with your thoughts.
Position: Right wing
2013 statistics: 48 games/15 goals, 9 assists, 24 points/minus-6 rating, 78 PIMs
Free-agent status: Unrestricted
2012-13 salary/cap hit: $3 million/$2.66 million (via Cap Geek)
Team history: Signed as undrafted free agent on Aug. 12, 2005
What he brings: Clarkson has developed into your prototypical power forward. He's not the biggest guy (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) but he plays about two inches bigger than his bio. He's strong on the forecheck and is one of those gritty "glue" guys that every team loves to have. He plays in all three phrases and also loves to get under the opposing team's skin with the way he plays. The difference between the Clarkson of three years ago and the player that's about to become an unrestricted free agent is scoring touch. Clarkson had always been a solid 10-to-15-goals per year kind of player until he finally reached the 30-goal plateau last season. Entering this season, there were questions about whether that was a fluke or whether he had legitimately reached another level of his development. Playing a full 48-game slate in the lockout year, Clarkson scored on a 25-goal pace and was constantly around the net, narrowly missing five to 10 additional goals over the course of the season.
What he lacks: There's not much Clarkson lacks, but there are holes to his game. He's not an elite-level offensive player and he's not going to blow by you with his speed. Also, while he scored 15 goals this season, only five of them came after Feb. 15 (34 games). Those five t0 10 goals he "missed" were because he sometimes lacks the delicate touch or powerful/accurate shot to bury a lot of the chances he gets playing on the Devils' top two lines. There's also a question of whether he's a better fit as a third-line winger as opposed to fluctuating between the first two units.
Should he stay or should he go: If the Devils had their way, there's no way Clarkson even leaves the state of New Jersey without signing at least a three- or four-year deal to remain a Devil. The problem is that Clarkson could quickly price himself out of Lou Lamoriello's market once he hits free agency. The Toronto native should have a long list of suitors due to his strong all-around game and the potential of landing a burgeoning power forward with 30-goal potential. His hometown Maple Leafs and the Oilers have already been mentioned as interested parties and both teams would have no problem overpaying to add Clarkson's attitude, potential and playing style to their locker rooms and their dressing room. I think the Devils need to do everything they can to keep him, as long as talks don't get into the Bobby Holik range. Clarkson is way too important to what coach Pete DeBoer does and absolutely crucial to a Devils locker room that, let's face it, would be lacking in identity and toughness without him. Offering Clarkson $4.5 million per over five years should be enough to get it done. Clarkson wants to stay. He's loyal to Lou, loyal to the Devils organization and he has a strong relationship with DeBoer. ... FINAL VERDICT: He stays.