The Toronto Maple Leafs announced early on Tuesday evening that they traded goaltender Garret Sparks to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for David Clarkson and Vegas’ 2020 fourth-round draft pick.
I thought the Leafs were done after the Zaitsev and Kadri trades. I was very, very wrong. When Leafs fans woke up this morning, I bet none of them expected to see good old grit-grinder David Clarkson back on the Leafs.
This trade is a lot to unpack, so let’s just start with the basic information.
Garret Sparks is someone who was supposed to be a poster boy for Leafs development this coming season alongside fellow Marlies graduate and 24-year-old left-winger Andreas Johnsson. The 2011 seventh-round pick had spent the last six seasons in the Leafs organization with the Orlando Solar Bears and Toronto Marlies before getting called up to the NHL’s Maple Leafs. He got an NHL shot in the doomed 2015-16 season where a 22-23 year old Sparks impressed.
After a spectacular AHL season landed him a boatload of awards, including AHL Goaltender of the Year, Sparks became a candidate for a full-time role behind Frederik Andersen. Competing with Curtis McElhinney and Calvin Pickard, he beat out both of the goalies to win the Leafs backup role while McElhinney and Pickard were claimed off of waivers (and McElhinney kept going with his Benjamin Button routine).
Unfortunately, some things don’t go the way you’ve planned and that’s what happened to Sparks. The now 26-year-old faltered in his role. The numbers don’t look horrible, an 8-9-1 record with a .902 SV% isn’t terrifying.
Still, almost everyone will tell you, Sparks had an awful season. He ended up losing the backup role to Michael Hutchinson shortly before their series against the Bruins.
Sparks can be a good goalie, it’s just the Maple Leafs can’t be patient with him anymore. His main issues in net (such as how far he is from the net and his confidence) are very easy to point out. If the Knights want to give him a shot, they have nothing to lose.
David Clarkson was an undrafted player out of the Juniors, was gritty and showed a scoring touch. After two seasons in the AHL, he got his shot at the NHL and proved to be a tough guy and a 20+ point player with 100+ PIM. A great last two seasons made the Leafs give him the contract he’s currently on, in free agency.
His contract, which spans seven years and carries a $5.25 million cap hit… it’s not very good and they’d find that out almost immediately. Two seasons of a floundering Clarkson saw himself shipped to Columbus. Unfortunately after a year in Columbus, Clarkson was diagnosed with a degenerative back disease which has ended his career. He’s currently the head coach of a high school team located in Ohio.
The fourth rounder obtained by the Leafs is Vegas’ fourth rounder with no conditions.
Okay, not much of that really matters, let’s get to the interesting bit.
Obviously, Garret Sparks was going to leave Toronto one way or another. The Leafs have Michael Hutchinson and potentially Michal Neuvirth competing for the backup role. The Marlies have Joseph Woll, Ian Scot and Kasimir Kaskisuo all competing for Marlies roles and the one who doesn’t make it will see a starting role in Newfoundland with Maxim Zhukov behind him. What I’m trying to say is Sparks didn’t have a future here.
I don’t think he even has a future in Vegas. It’s pretty clear that the Knights are rolling with Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban for their NHL goaltending. In the AHL, they have Oscar Dansk who’s a lock for the starting role and prospect Dylan Ferguson who you might remember for being an emergency call-up out of junior a couple of years ago for the backup role. Vegas probably ends up flipping him for a later round pick, just like Toronto intended on doing.
Now for the “fun” part. Clarkson is 100% going on LTIR. There’s no doubt about it, at all. I’m not exactly the right guy to go into details about this, but Twitter User @EarlSchwartz27 does an outstanding job of explaining it here.
Basically, the Leafs can’t get full relief from Nathan Horton’s LTIR without Marner signing and can’t sign Marner when the season starts without Horton on LTIR. I recommend reading it, but it details how both can be put on LTIR for full relief if Marner signs during the season, but also, if Marner doesn’t sign before the season starts, they need to bury only two cheap players to get as close to the cap as possible and get LTIR relief.
This trade is confusing to say the least, but it isn’t bad for either team. Toronto prepares better for a Marner holdout while also pretty much buying cap space by trading Sparks. They also get a higher return for Sparks then they would’ve without Clarkson.
Vegas doesn’t have to pay Clarkson his money and their cap situation becomes easier so they can sign Nikita Gu- Deryk Engelland, obviously.