March 12 2013 10:29AM
Photo: Michael Miller/Wikimedia
Brett Clark, a veteran of 700 NHL games between the regular and post-season, has been a godsend for an Oklahoma City team that basically had to do a midseason rebuild once the 2012 lockout ended. Through 18 games he has 17 points and a plus-7 rating. Is he playing well enough that he’s going to get another NHL shot?
Todd Nelson’s Take
Yesterday, Bob Stauffer asked Barons head coach Todd Nelson whether Clark was good enough to play in the NHL again.
I think he can. He’s not as fast as he once was, but he’s smart enough to make plays. He controls the game back there, Bob. He’s very calm, he finds breakout passes, makes the pass on the tape. He has a lot of experience, he’s a calming presence for us back there. I think that given the opportunity he’s a guy that could fill a role at that level as maybe a five/six. Right now I still think he has a lot left in him. He enjoys the game, he enjoys coming to the rink. I think he’s the biggest kid coming to the rink because he always has a smile on his face, he brings attitude. He’s a very welcome addition to our back end.
The last comment in particular stood out to me. Clark’s 36 years old, played hundreds of games in the AHL/IHL before finally making it to the majors full-time in 2005. Then he had a long run in the NHL – prior to this season, he hadn’t played a minor-league game since 2004-05. When a guy with that kind of mileage can come to the rink grinning about playing AHL hockey, it says a lot about his love for the game. It makes sense, though – the Atlanta Thrashers decided Clark wasn’t good enough for their blue line when he was 25, and he spent the next four years proving he deserved another NHL shot.
Where He Fits
Essentially, the role Clark can play in Edmonton is the same one that Lowetide identified here a month ago when he recapped the Oilers defensive depth chart:
Brett Clark. Signed to an AHL contract by the Barons, I think there's a chance he ends up in Edmonton at some point this season (depending on injuries and what happens at the deadline). Clark has a lot of miles on him but can also play the position.
Despite the Oilers’ impressive win over Chicago and favourable schedule the rest of the way – something that should make their second half an improvement over their first – the odds are very good that management has written off the season by the trade deadline (if they haven’t already). It will take a Herculean effort for this team to play its way back into the playoff spot, and while it is possible – a late season run like the team put together in 2007-08 might do it - it is also unlikely.
That means the Oilers will likely sell at the deadline. Ryan Whitney should be worth a draft and will almost certainly be dealt, but other defencemen could be in play. Ladislav Smid and Mark Fistric seem like good bets to be retained but both players are pending unrestricted free agents so the Oilers have a choice to make there. Theo Peckham could represent another interesting decision – would the restricted free agent be of interest to some team as a seventh defenceman? He is a physical force who has done well at times when paired with a competent puck-mover, and if the Oilers would rather move on the deadline might be a good time to do it.
Presumably the Oilers would prefer seven defencemen, so it will probably take some combination of two moves or two injuries for the team to decide that Brett Clark is worth an NHL contract. That seems like an entirely possible combination between now and the end of the season.
Update: The other issue with Clark not mentioned above is waiver eligibility. One example that was pointed out to me was Tom Kostopoulos in Pittsburgh - the Penguins had him on a tryout deal with their farm team but lost him on waivers to New Jersey when they signed him to an NHL deal. There isn't really a definitive explanation of the new waiver system publicly available at this juncture, so it is unclear under what circumstances exactly Clark would need to clear waivers - but it could explain why the Oilers have not yet signed him to an NHL deal.
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