The timely signing of Jonathan Cheechoo to a player tryout with the Oklahoma City Barons wasn’t all that surprising. The name was surprising, but the caliber was anything but. The team needed consistent scoring, but more importantly consistent vet scoring to help anchor a team of young offensive prospects. And so it made sense to do that in a post-NHL-lockout AHL world. Will he give you 20+ goals to end the season? I sure hope so.
So the team will make a play for a similar type of player on the other side of the puck. A veteran guy (the Barons have one more spot for an AHL vet after signing Cheechoo) that can give you a world of help amongst some very young and more importantly immature pro defenders. The likely candidate? How about Brett Clark.
Bill Scott, GM of the Oklahoma City Barons, made mention last night that something of this nature could be coming. Via the Daily Oklahoman:
Barons general manager Bill Scott is expected to sign another player later this week in addition to Cheechoo. “You’ll find out very soon,” Scott said. “There are some good players out there, guys biding time, waiting for a deal.”
The timeline points to this week, and the comments leave us to believe the “guys biding time” are not in high demand from NHL teams.
Brett Clark, drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 1999 expansion draft has 185 NHL points and 155 AHL points featured on his resume. The defender, now 36, logged a ton of time with the Colorado Avalance and most recently two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Of the move to the Lightning, GM Steve Yzerman said of Clark:
“In Brett Clark, we are adding an experienced, intelligent defenseman who plays the game efficiently,” Yzerman said in a statement. “He’ll not only help steady and stabilize our defense, we expect him to help mentor our younger defensemen as they grow and develop. We are pleased he elected to join the Lightning today.”
Experienced. Intelligent. Efficiently. Steady. Stabilize. Mentor. Grow. Develop. All things that both the Oilers and Barons are looking for, and in desperate need of.
I’m not the only one to catch the Clark Fever. Twice, very respected Oilers writers have made mention of adding Clark to their stockpile of players.
During camp in Edmonton, Jim Matheson mentioned a few names that could be added to the Oilers. Of those, Brett Clark was one.
The Oilers will have eight defencemen in camp (Andy Sutton has a bad knee), but that doesn’t preclude them from looking around for a more veteran blue-liner, either on waivers or a free-agent signing. Chris Campoli is still out there. He’s more of a puck-mover. Jim Vandermeer is also available. He’s tougher and is also an unrestricted free agent. Brett Clark and Mark Eaton are also up for grabs.
Good friend of the blog, Bruce McCurdy, discussed the overall shape of the roster in Oilers camp and pointed to the losses of Sutton and Jones and perhaps Brett Clark being brought in on the cheap.
Unlike Jones, Sutton will not return at any point this season to boost the line-up, so it seems much more pressing a matter that the Oilers pursue other means to replace him. It may be that Steve Tambellini enters the free agent market to sign one of the dwindling few defenders available, perhaps a 35+ type like Mark Eaton, Colin White or Brett Clark.
Two things are happening here. The list of available and respectable defensive players NOT signed to a contract is dwindling quickly. Second, the two writers who’ve discussed Clark in the past have a good history of connectivity to the team. Even if indirectly, their knowledge of the Oilers inner workings is strong. I’m not suggesting they have insider information, but they are intelligent and highly respectable folks who know a thing or two about Oilers hockey and what the team goes after.
Lost in the shadow of the Cheechoo signing seems to be the signing of a defensive player. I’ll go out on a wobbly limb here and suggest that Brett Clark is the next Baron to sign a contract. Perhaps he becomes an Oiler as well.
So what’s the deal with Brett Clark? Where does he fit in? What can he do? The answer further points us towards signing this guy in the Oilers organization. Via Fear The Fin:
It’s difficult to get a read on where Brett Clark is at this stage of his career. He looked to be in the midst of something of a resurgence following what was an excellent 2010-11 season for him, when he played very well in difficult minutes for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He followed that campaign up by disappointing across the board in 2011-12, however, and taking a closer look reveals that his 10-11 success may have had a lot more to do with young stud Victor Hedman than any type of renaissance for Clark.
Clark went from playing over 725 even-strength minutes alongside Hedman in 10-11 to just 153 in 11-12 after the Bolts acquired Eric Brewer at the 2011 deadline and minted him as Hedman’s new partner. Clark’s underlying numbers and offensive production fell off a cliff as a result as did, for whatever reason, his penalty killing ability despite him receiving a larger role in that situation during 11-12. In the 2010-11 season, no defenseman who averaged at least 1.2 shorthanded minutes a game was on the ice for fewer goals against per sixty minutes than Clark. That ballooned last season, although largely due to a sharp decrease in his on-ice SV%, which could indicate it was little more than randomness.
If none of this reads like a ringing endorsement of Brett Clark, you’re not lost. It isn’t necessarily supposed to. But he’ll likely come cheap, has a recent track record as a competent defenseman given the right situation and could be a hidden gem on the penalty kill. I’ll take that over Vandermeer any day.
Look for a deal to get done this week. As the Barons hit the road they’ll test the waters on two new players who can instantly make the team better. Does it do a enough to get them out of the basement in the AHL? Maybe. The real question is how can these players aid the NHL club as well. Cheechoo, no. Clark, yes. Keep your eyes peeled hockey fans.
Brett Clark’s stats: