Clarkson, 29, finished the shortened 2013 season with 15 goals and nine assists while playing in all 48 games. He is also a season removed from his first 30 goal season in 2011-12.
Clarkson signed a three-year, $8 million contract back in 2010 but is expected to get a hefty pay increase if he decides to test the market. Todd Cordell of Hockeybuzz.com believes that Clarkson could average nearly $5 million per year over six or seven seasons.
The Devils will have more than $26 million in cap space to work with this offseason, but they also have to worry about the contracts of Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus and restricted free agent Adam Henrique.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello has already confirmed that Matt D'Agostini and Steve Sullivan will not return next season, and sources report that defenseman Marek Zidlicky will likely test the market as well, via Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger in New Jersey. Zubrus and Elias made a combined $10 million last year, which would cut the team's cap space in half if they decide to take similar money.
Would it be wise for the Devils, who only have six players under contract for 2013-14, to let Clarkson walk after scoring 45 goals in one and a half seasons? Yes.
Yes, Clarkson is a fan favorite. He also led the team in goals last season.
But one must remember that he was nothing more than a tough, grinding forward over the course of his career. The Devils shouldn't overpay someone ($5 million per year is a lot of money for someone who only has one season with 30 goals) if they aren't sure what they'll get in the future.
You have to look at when Clarkson scored his goals. Between Jan. 19 and Feb. 15 (14 games), Clarkson recorded 10 goals to start the season. However, for the remainder of the year (Feb. 16 to April 27), Clarkson only recorded five goals in 34 games.
More importantly, Clarkson went 13 straight games (a quarter of the shortened season) without a goal. Even after he got out of his slump and found the back of the net against Philadelphia on March 15, Clarkson did not have a multi-goal game for the remainder of the season.
How can a team pay upwards of $30 million to a goal scorer who struggled scoring goals last season?
Free agency is expected to be dry this offseason in terms of offensive weapons, so Clarkson will likely be sought after as one of the best available options. Fans have to think with their heads and not with their hearts, and while Clarkson is a fan favorite in New Jersey, it would make more sense to let him take the money elsewhere.