Top Shelf: Toronto's Clarkson makes a costly decision

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Updated: 9/24/2013 2:04 pm

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - David Clarkson appeared on the cover of the Sept. 9 issue of "The Hockey News" sporting a photo-shopped cut below his left eye dripping with blue blood.

Underneath the close-up photo, the words "David Clarkson Bleeds Blue" are located beneath a Toronto Maple Leafs logo.

It's certainly a bold image, but after Clarkson was suspended for the first 10 games of the season, maybe the publication should mock-up a new cover, this time with blue tears instead of blood.

After signing a seven-year, $36.8 million contract with the Maple Leafs over the summer, Clarkson is expected to play a major role in the club's offense for the upcoming 2013-14 season. However, his decision to leave the bench during a brawl with the Buffalo Sabres in a recent exhibition contest is proving costly for both the 29-year-old forward and his new team.

As the cover in "The Hockey News" suggested, Clarkson is a gritty guy who plays with a ton of pride. With the Maple Leafs, he's not only playing to justify his lucrative free agent contract, but also to prove he can shine in the tough hockey market of Toronto, an area Clarkson knows well after growing up a Leafs fan in the nearby suburb of Etobicoke, Ontario.

However, Clarkson's team pride went a little too far in the infamous preseason game against the Sabres on Sunday night. As a huge brawl broke out on the ice, the Buffalo tough guy went after Toronto's top player, Phil Kessel, and that's when Clarkson made his fateful decision to leave the bench.

Clarkson's instinct to come to the aid of his new team's star winger was noble, but not all that smart. Although he's not as important to the team as Kessel, Clarkson is still being paid big money to score, not to be an enforcer.

Now, because of the rash decision, Clarkson will forfeit $269,230.80 of his salary while serving the suspension. While Clarkson's lost salary will affect his own personal bank account, the suspension also comes with financial ramifications for the club because there is nowhere for the Leafs to hide his annual cap hit of $5.25 million during the ban.

More importantly for the team, the suspension means Clarkson will not be able to make his Leafs debut until Oct. 25 in Columbus.

Although Clarkson is appealing the suspension, there is virtually no chance he will win because of the NHL's zero tolerance policy when it comes to leaving the bench. The act carries an automatic 10-game suspension, and it's nearly impossible to escape the league's justice when it comes to hopping off the bench to join a brawl.

Right off the bat, the 10-game absence robs Clarkson of just over 12 percent of his season. That could make it difficult for the physical forward to reach the 30-goal mark like he did during a career year with the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12, a campaign that helped Clarkson tremendously when he hit the open market this summer.

Toronto was counting on Clarkson being a presence on the second line, as the club tries to build off its playoff appearance last spring by adding secondary scoring to complement contributions from Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on the top line. Instead, Clarkson will be watching from the press box for almost the entire first month of the season, putting his team at a disadvantage just as they begin play in the new-look Atlantic Division, which could be more competitive thanks to the NHL's realignment plan.

Speaking of Kessel, he also may be facing a suspension for his role in Sunday's brawl with the Sabres, as the fallout from the wild exhibition contest continues to unfurl.

Kessel isn't known for physical play or throwing the fists, but he has a hearing scheduled with the league office on Tuesday for getting Scott with a couple of double-handed slashes as the Sabres tough guy tried to get him to engage in a fight. Kessel also appeared to spear Scott at a later juncture and he could face a suspension of his own, albeit one that would likely be shorter than Clarkson's punishment.

Even if Kessel escapes punishment, missing Clarkson for such a big part of the season makes things more difficult for head coach Randy Carlyle and the offense in the early going. It's even worse when one considers it was such an easily avoidable situation if Clarkson could've kept his cool and thought about the repercussions before jumping over the boards and joining the fray.

Clarkson's desire to protect his teammates may earn him respect in the locker room now, but what is that worth it if Toronto stumbles without his contributions in October?

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