Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Isles winger Cal Clutterbuck has taken his fair share of grief for his level of play since joining the Islanders. He’s been accused of playing soft, of not contributing offensively, and of not standing up for his team mates. But the truth of the matter is, Clutterbuck is doing exactly what he’s supposed to do for the Islanders.
The Isles acquired Clutterbuck in a trade with the Minnesota Wild along with a 3rd round selection in the 2013 draft for highly regarded but disgruntled winger Nino Niederreiter on June 30, 2013. At the time there was unbridled enthusiasm for Clutterbuck’s arrival, tempered by a sense of loss for such a solid prospect. I touched on the trade briefly and offered my thoughts in an article written back in October. Most fans have at least a passing knowledge of Clutterbuck’s past feats, but as a quick refresher here are some of his particulars.
Taken in the third round of the 2006 entry draft, the former teammate – and sometime linemate – of John Tavares in Oshawa of the OHL recorded back to back 35 goal seasons for the Generals. He got his first taste of the NHL the following year, but spent most of his time in Houston of the AHL. Following his lone AHL campaign he came to Minnesota full time the following year, recording 11 goals and 18 points. He spent five full seasons with Minnesota, where he garnered a reputation for heavy hitting and solid physical play.
Once the NHL started keeping track of hits in 2008-09, Clutterbuck suddenly had a vessel through which he could excel. He led the league in hits for three years running (2008-09 to 2010-11), until current bruiser Matt Martin roared onto the scene and took over the crown (Martin led the league in hits the last two years, and is well in the lead this year). Clutterbuck Set the record with 356, which has since been broken by Martin (374 in 2011-12). In the last three seasons he has finished 3, 9 and is in 11 in the current season. His hits are down a bit from previous years, but so is his ice time; he’s logging more than three minutes a game fewer than at his peak with the Wild. Yes, he’s getting about the same ice as Martin, but at the risk of splitting hairs, he’s also outscoring Martin, who isn’t catching much if any flak for his offensive output this season.
He’s also capable of contributing on the scoreboard. Clutterbuck scored on a shorthanded penalty shot on December 21, a rare occurrence, and his second shorthanded goal of the season. Ironically, in Sunday’s matchup with Minnesota, Clutterbuck and Niederreiter faced each other for the first time since the trade in which they swapped teams. Each man had a goal, while Niederreiter also added an assist. For all the backlash against the Isles for having dared to trade a top-end offensive prospect like Niederreiter for the likes of Clutterbuck, it’s interesting that it was Clutterbuck’s fifth goal, and only Niederreiter’s seventh. That really isn’t enough of a difference to warrant such outrage, especially when you consider how much more of a physical presence Clutterbuck is.
He wasn’t brought in to score fifty goals, or go toe to toe with the league’s heavyweights every night. Anyone expecting those things will be sorely disappointed. He was picked up to play a regular shift on any line at any time, as the situation warrants. He can take a turn on both special teams, score the occasional goal, bang and thrash and bring energy to a sagging team’s fortunes. Following a protracted adjustment period, including a fairly serious leg injury, Clutterbuck has settled in and is doing exactly that. He’s locked in for four years, and is a safe bet to play a key role into the future.