NHL.com's weekly Q&A feature called "Five Questions With ..." returns for the 2013-14 season. We'll talk to key figures in the game today and ask them poignant questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the state of their teams.
David Clarkson will be the toast of Toronto or the target of the fans' fury in about two months.
The former New Jersey Devils forward put himself in that precarious position by signing a seven-year, $37 million contract to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 5. Clarkson knows that a mega-contract signed with a big-market team always is accompanied by notoriety and scrutiny, but it can be even more pressure-packed when you're a local guy returning home.
Clarkson, who is from the Toronto suburb of Mimico, Ontario, hasn't even pulled the blue and white sweater over his head yet and his contract has been the target of criticism by some fans and media members.
As he prepares to embrace the pressure of popularity and money in his hometown, Clarkson sat with NHL.com to talk about all things Maple Leafs, including Nazem Kadri's contract squabble, Toronto's goaltending situation and his own aspirations.
Here are Five Questions With … David Clarkson:
As the guy who is supposed to play on Nazem Kadri's right wing, does it bother you that he is not signed yet and may not be there when training camp opens?
"It's a tough thing to touch on. It's a situation that no player likes going through. I'm obviously new to this whole situation [in Toronto], but I've been in there, I've seen him work, and I really like him. This is a tough thing to go through and it's part of things that happen in any business. It's not always that the guy is a bad guy. Sometimes the media or people don't know exactly what is going on, what he's asking and people say things, but I'm new to the whole situation.
"Would I love to see him in the lineup? One hundred percent. I think he makes the team better. He had a heck of a season last year. But [general manager Dave] Nonis is a smart man and Mr. Nonis is going to do what he has to do for the right of the team, for the organization. That's kind of where I'm at with the whole [Kadri] thing."
(Editor's note: Kadri signed a two-year contract Sept. 10.)
You mentioned you've been in offseason workouts with Kadri. Despite his contract situation, have you guys spoken about how to create chemistry, playing styles, what your likes and dislikes are so you get a better sense of what it will be like to play with him eventually?
"We've played together a little bit and I like playing with him. He moves the puck well. I'm somebody that will work hard out there and I'll move the puck, but I like guys that can get me the puck, especially down low. I think that's what makes me successful is playing with players that can make that play to get it to me in front. I hope everything works itself out, but my first impression of [Kadri] is he's a great kid and I look forward to getting him a part of everything."
When in New Jersey, you always talked about having complete confidence in your goaltending because of Martin Brodeur. You even became close friends with him. Do you enter Toronto with the same type of confidence in Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer even though they haven't proven much yet?
"Absolutely. One hundred percent. I think you have to. You can't go into any situation as a player, as a coach or anything in life where you're unsure. You have to be, no matter what the media or anyone else says, happy with what you have and go out and play your game. Is it hard? Yeah, because Marty was the best goalie in the world and one of my best buddies, so that feeling obviously is different. But at the end of the day, I am 100 percent looking forward to whoever plays in net. You have to be comfortable and you have to go out and play."
In sports we always hear about how a player in a contract season is motivated because he wants to cash in on another big payday. You're now entering the first year of a seven-year deal with a new team. Are you different? Does the contract you signed motivate you?
"People have asked me that and I'm very lucky to be a member of the Maple Leafs, and I'm excited about it. To go to an organization like this, there is always, I don't want to say pressure, but expectation that you have to have as a player and I have that expectation on myself. I know what has happened to other players [in Toronto], but all I can say is I'm going to go in there, work hard and do what I have to do. There is that expectation that I have upon myself to compete and do the little things that have made me successful."
You were not drafted, yet you've scored 30 goals in a season and landed a multiyear, multimillion dollar contract. Do you feel you still have more to prove about yourself and why you belong in the League?
"You always do. I've proven it to everybody, but I'm not going to say, 'OK, well, I've done it now.' I'm also not going to go down the wing and put it under the goalie's arm after dangling three guys, but I'm going to go out there every night and compete, wear my heart on my sleeve. Am I going to be perfect? No, I'm going to make mistakes, but I'll make up for them with my work ethic. I'm just excited for this all to start, especially to put that jersey on for the first game of the season."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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