- Paul Grant
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With all these comparisons flying around, this week we're going to cut through the crud and make a call. Given two players, taking both in their primes, who would be better? And the best part of it is that you, the user, get the final word.
For our first installment, we're taking on two tough-as-nails forwards who can put points on the board in David Clarkson and Wendel Clark. And, what do you know, both are going to share the experience of playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which is no small challenge. Can Clarkson be the son of Clark?
The case for David Clarkson: Clarkson isn't running away from the comparisons, calling Clark his idol and standing beside Clark during media access in July. In fact, Clarkson will wear No. 71, the flipped version of Clark's 17 (and not that of Mike Foligno). But Clarkson is going more for the "I'd like to play like him" than the more presumptuous, "I play like him" vibe, a distinction which is falling on deaf ears in Leaf Nation. Clarkson, 29, is well-liked and should be entering his prime, which is why he was signed to a megabucks deal with major term ($36.75 million over seven years). He went undrafted, had an average junior career and didn't make a dent in the pro life until he was 21 and in the New Jersey Devils system. He was a late bloomer as a pro, becoming a second-line star for the Devils over the past two seasons as he really came into his own as a premier power forward, scoring 45 goals over 128 games. Clark sees a lot of potential and likes what he sees in Clarkson. "Dave can play every part of the game, no matter which way the game goes," Clark told reporters on July 11, standing beside Clarkson after the free-agent signing. "That's a good sign; you're very usable. No matter how the game goes, you can bring energy to the game." Which is hockey code for: He can throw them just as well as he can score them. Clarkson will bring much-needed skilled edge to the Leafs.
The case for Wendel Clark: Clark broke into the league at 19 after going first overall following a great junior career -- as a defenseman. In his rookie season with the Leafs, he took on anyone who wanted to go -- fellow rookies or veteran scrappers, relatively small guys (he was listed as 5-11), big guys, it didn't matter -- and stood tall almost every time. Then, for good measure, he scored 34 goals. To emphasize: He scored 34 goals, in his rookie season, in Toronto, as a converted defenseman, who spent a lot of time in the penalty box, on a team that was owned by Harold Ballard, was coached by Dan Maloney and had Miroslav Frycer as its leading scorer. He had great hands and scored some amazing goals with his wicked wrister. Because he played hard -- aside from his furious fisticuffs, his open-ice hits were so viciously clean that he should be considered the last of the pure bodycheckers -- he was hit hard by the injury bug and played just one full season (his second) over 15 seasons. But in 1993-94, even though injury shortened his stint to 64 games, he scored 46 goals -- and added nine in the playoffs. After his third stint with the Leafs, Clark retired at an old 33 but remains with the team as a living legend or ambassador or something. (For more highlights, drop by Down Goes Brown's tribute, which is penned by Grantland's great Sean McIndoe.)
Which player would you rather have in his prime? Give us your specific thoughts in the comments section below. Out on a limb, people!
11dScott Burnside and Craig Custance