CBJ Archives: The Free Agent Class of 2013

By Jacob Nitzberg on May 5, 2020 at 8:05 am
David Clarkson
Ed Mulholland - USA TODAY Sports

If you told a Blue Jackets fan in the summer of 2013 that both Nathan Horton and David Clarkson would be on the Blue Jackets' payroll at one point, they'd probably expect a couple of banners to be hanging in Nationwide Arena.

However, that's not exactly how things unfolded. 

After the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season in which the Blue Jackets went 24-17-7, Columbus was ready to bolster their offensive talent. They went after  Horton, and they got their guy. Similarly, the Maple Leafs saw talent in Clarkson and signed him on the same day as the Blue Jackets signed Horton.

On July 5th, 2013, Horton signed a seven-year deal worth $37.1-million. He was ready to come in and make an impact on the Blue Jackets' top line. Unfortunately, shoulder surgery before the season started kept him out of the lineup until January, when he would make his Blue Jackets debut and score the game-winning goal in a 2-0 win over the then-Phoenix Coyotes.

Horton would finish the 2013-14 campaign with five goals and 14 assists in 36 games. Not bad, but certainly nowhere near the production that the Blue Jackets expected when they inked him to a seven-year deal. 

He would never play another game in the NHL. In October of 2014, Horton was diagnosed with a degenerative back issue that effectively ended his career. He tried just about everything to get back on the ice, but the pain was too severe. 

Then, in February of 2015, the Blue Jackets traded Horton to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Clarkson. It was a move that gave both teams some financial flexibility. 

For the Maple Leafs, they were able to free up cap space. Clarkson was in his second year of a seven-year, $36.75-million contract that no team was going to take — except for Columbus. The Blue Jackets got a skater that they were paying a similar amount as Horton, but Clarkson would actually be able to suit up. The Maple Leafs were able to put Horton on LTIR, which meant that he would not count against their cap space. If Horton were to ever recover, the Leafs would make out like bandits. 

It was the best of a bad situation for both teams. 

Clarkson's Blue Jackets' career was short-lived and uneventful. He played three games in the 2014-15 season, then played 23 in the 2015-16 campaign, notching two goals and two assists in 26 games. 

Unfortunately, Clarkson developed a degenerative back issue that derailed his career. The parallels between his career and Horton's are numerous. The only surgery that would solve the problem, a spine fusion, would have marked the end of Clarkson's playing days. 

In 2017, the Blue Jackets made a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights before the expansion draft. The Knights agreed to take on Clarkson's contract in return for selecting William Karlsson from the Blue Jackets. While the Blue Jackets were able to get rid of Clarkson's contract, they did it at a cost. Karlsson notched 43 goals the season after, and has blossomed into a number-one center. 

So, if you were a Blue Jackets fan in 2013 and you were told that the Blue Jackets would have Horton and Clarkson on the payroll at one point, my guess is that you would have expected a very different outcome. 

The Blue Jackets certainly can't be faulted for signing Horton, the domino that started all of this. Sometimes medical issues arise that can't be foreseen. 

In this case, they certainly leave Blue Jackets fans wondering what could have been.

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