When his childhood dream of playing for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs devolved into a professional nightmare, Clarkson agreed to waive his no-movement clause to get a fresh start with a trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets. His tenure in Toronto went off the rails not long after signing a US$36.75-million, seven-year contract and he was never able to get back on track.
"I don't regret playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs or signing there," Clarkson said Friday on a conference call. "I wish things would have went better, but I'm excited to get into (Columbus) and be a part of the next chapter of my life."
Clarkson pointed to the 10-game suspension for leaving the bench during a fight in just his third pre-season game with the Leafs and a variety of injuries as reasons why things went so wrong. But the 30-year-old right-winger also complained of not getting power-play time early in his first season and being put in a reduced role from his time in New Jersey.
"The role I played in Jersey was a lot different than I played here in Toronto, and for me personally I hope to get back to that and get back to playing the way I know I can and doing that in Columbus," said Clarkson, who hopes to make his Blue Jackets debut Saturday against the Devils.
Clarkson averaged 1:03 of power-play ice time last season compared to 3:33 and 3:03 in his final two seasons with the Devils, including 2011-'12 when he scored 30 goals, including eight on the power play. He was up to 1:56 this season on the Leafs' second unit.
And while general manager Dave Nonis said Clarkson was better this season than last, his total of 15 goals and 11 assists over 118 games with the Maple Leafs wasn't the level of production anyone expected.
"He showed flashes," Nonis said Thursday night. "There were moments where we had the David that we hoped to have."
Those moments were fleeting. Clarkson had just one multi-point game with the Leafs and just one goal in his final 25 games before Thursday's stunning trade for injured winger Nathan Horton.
Perhaps the most telling reflection Clarkson had about his time in Toronto was what he considered his most positive memory.
"I think the highlight was the first day when I signed that piece of paper and to see the look on my Dad's face of how proud he was not just that I was in the NHL but I was able to sign with a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs," he said.
There was little to reminisce positively about beyond that. His reset button comes in Columbus.
"I think a fresh start and to get back to (playing) the way I did in Jersey and get back to myself, that's something I'm excited for is that opportunity," Clarkson said.
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