How David Clarkson is Ruining The Golden Knights’ Summer.

How David Clarkson is Ruining The Golden Knights’ Summer.

-Jack Manning

We are waiting. We are ALL waiting.

Its been months since the Knights’ season ended and there are still zero new contracts, and zero trades. The summer has been terrible and it is all David Clarkson’s fault.

While the NHL hasn’t officially announced the 2019/20 salary cap numbers, we know for certain that the Golden Knights are already well over the current estimates.  Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet is reporting that the final cap hit for next season will be between $81 million and $82 million, after nearly the entire league had believed that the number would be closer to $83 million.  Even before signing William Karlsson, Nikita Gusev, Malcolm Subban and Jimmy Schuldt, the Knights are already committed to $83.1 million in salary next year.  Just to sign those four restricted free agents is likely to cost at least another $10 million dollars in cap space.  Unfortunately, this leaves Kelly McCrimmon and George McPhee with exactly one viable choice: they have to make some trades.  

At the top of the Golden Knights trade list is a player that many in Vegas has never heard of. David Clarkson was once the highest paid forward on the Golden Knights’ payroll, but he’s never even attended a Golden Knights training camp.  Following a career-ending injury, Clarkson’s $5.25 million dollar cap hit was acquired by Vegas from Columbus during the expansion draft. That same deal brought in a first round pick and William Karlsson. It’s certainly hard to argue against that trade in retrospect, but the same bad contract that got Karlsson to Vegas is now a significant impediment to getting him extended.  

David Clarkson will never play another game of professional hockey and is effectively retired.  However, until the end of his contract he will remain on the Long Term Injured Reserve (“LTIR”) list. Contrary to popular belief, placing a player on LTIR does not eliminate his cap hit altogether, instead it operates to allow a team to exceed the cap under certain circumstances. The fundamentals of the LTIR system would take an entire article to explain. Fortunately, the folks over at CapFriendly have put together a great FAQ that lays out the formulas and scenarios where the salary cap is affected by LTIR.

The folks at CapFriendly were also kind enough to explain the implications specifically for David Clarkson and the Knights:

Suffice to say, while the Knights could simply place the Clarkson contract on LTIR during the summer, it would leave the Knights hamstrung once the season began. Shedding the contract altogether would afford them much more flexibility. Unfortunately, the only way to shed the contract is to include it in a trade.  In seasons past, moving contracts of a similar type have cost teams either a good prospect or relatively early pick.  In 2016, The Detroit Redwings moved back four spots in the draft in exchange for shedding Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5 million dollar contract.  While moving back four spots in the draft may not seem like a steep price to pay, it could be the difference between selecting a future top-6 forward and selecting a third line grinder.

Even though Clarkson will never play again, he still wields a significant amount of control over where is salary is traded to. Clarkson’s contract includes a 14-team no-trade clause. Jesse Granger recently reported that the Knights have requested that list this week. You might not think that Clarkson would care where his contract is traded, but a trade may have significant financial implications for him. As most of us appreciate, Nevada has no state income tax, meaning that Clarkson keeps a much higher percentage of his salary, even though he doesn’t live in Nevada. If his contract were to be traded to California or Vancouver, for example, he would see his take-home pay slashed by more than 10%. Unfortunately, this means that Clarkson has a financial incentive to make a trade out of Vegas more difficult. If Clarkson wanted to, he could easily limit the Knights trading partners to the 16 most cap-strapped teams in the league.

Unfortunately, with the salary cap being more than $1 million less than was previously projected, the number of teams willing to eat a bad contract is beginning to dwindle and the prices are beginning to climb.  Be prepared for a trade that includes the David Clarkson contract to be pretty underwhelming.   Fortunately, with players like Cody Glass, Nic Hague, and Zach Whitecloud all looking to challenge for a job in the fall, the Golden Knights have ample NHL roster talent that is beginning to look expendable.  Players like Cody Eakin and Colin Miller have both been speculated to be included in a package with the Clarkson contract, but clearly nothing has manifested yet.  There is no doubt that the Knights will ultimately get below the cap before the season begins, and can exceed the cap by as much as $8.2 million dollars during the summer, there is going to be a reckoning sooner than later, and probably as early as this weekend’s draft.

So while you may not know much about David Clarkson, at least you now know that he’s ruining your summer.

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