It was during the summer before the 2005 season when the Washington Capitals acquired Chris Clark in a trade with the Calgary Flames that otherwise featured the swapping of mostly late round draft picks.
Clark was born in South Windsor, Connecticut on March 8, 1976 and grew up as a fan of the Hartford Whalers who eventually moved to Carolina and became the Hurricanes. He attended Clarkson University (very fitting, given his surname) and graduated with a degree in Business. His wife is named Kim, which combined with the last name Clark, makes a person think of Kimberly-Clark, the company that makes Kleenex, Huggies diapers, and other personal care products. He had been drafted by the Calgary Flames back in 1994 but did not make his NHL debut until the 1999-2000 season and had not stayed in the NHL for a full season until the following year. He scored 10 goals in during each of his 3 full years with the Flames but increased his assist total every year. He was with the Flames for their run to the Stanley Cup Finals during 2003-2004.
He blossomed as a scorer with the Caps, scoring 20 goals during the 2005-2006 season, and followed that up with 30 goals the following year. He was named Captain of the Capitals just before the 2006 season. He was a late bloomer as a scorer, even though his scoring was helped by the presence of Alex Ovechkin on his line. On a personal note, Clark had arrived to the Caps around the same time frame that my younger daughter had left her long time swim team to swim with another team whose best player was also named Chris Clark who was a year older than she was. That other Chris Clark had not become a star swimmer until his teenaged years, as well, so there was the late bloomer parallel between them and an extra reason to pay special attention to the hockey player.
But unfortunately, beginning in the 2007-2008 season, injuries took a toll on his career. He strained a groin muscle during a shootout loss to the Florida Panthers on November 28, 2007 and missed the next 18 games. He returned to the lineup on February 13, 2008 in a game against the Flyers and aggravated his groin injury and was out for the rest of the year, including the playoffs. Prior to his injury plagued seasons, he had been durable. He had only missed 2 games during his initial two seasons with the Caps, with those games missed when he had fractured his palate bone. His palate bone had been rebuilt with parts from a cadaver causing him to become known as “Captain Cadaver”.
He returned the following year (2008-2009) but had even more injuries, including a stress fracture of the forearm (November) and then a wrist injury (late January) where he needed season ending surgery but returned during the playoffs (Game 7 of Round 1). His productivity never did return to his pre-injury levels. Before it was announced that he was having surgery on a damaged wrist, it was rumored that he was a healthy scratch for a weekend series, which was personally sad for me, even during a weekend where the Caps had swept back to back games.
He was traded on December 28 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 28, 2009 along with Milan Jurcina in return for Jason Chimera. When his contract ended after the 2010-2011 season, he tried out with the Boston Bruins but did not make their team. He signed a contract with Boston’s farm team, the Providence Bruins. When the season ended, he took a scouting position with the Columbus Blue Jackets and is currently their Development Coach.
Clark was a particular favorite of mine, during his time with the team. During the early part of the 2008-2009 season, the Caps were advertising ticket plans, in that any fan who signed up for either a 3 game plan or 6 game plan would get a free signed Caps’ player puck. Hence, I decided to sign up for a 6 game plan, with an additional 3 game plan as well. The player I chose was Chris Clark, given that pucks from my other two main favorites (Semin and Ovi) were no longer available. I ended up getting his autograph after a practice in December 2008 – when his hand was still in a cast. And also recall helping other fans pass their memorabilia to Clark for signature around that same time frame. I ended up getting his autograph on the team 2009-2010 yearbook the very day before he was traded.
I recall my reaction when he was traded. I considered the return reasonable, as Chimera was a left winger, a position the Caps were more in need of at the time than right wingers and the Caps were also saving a lot of salary by removing his $2,633,000 and Milan Jurcina’s $1,375,000 from the Caps payroll and obtaining Chimera whose salary was 1,875,000 at that time. Personally, I was sad, considering injuries had robbed him of his skill. Plus, at the time of the trade, I had not been fond of Jason Chimera as he had been the person who was a major part of a scrum that had resulted in an injury to Ovi in a game between the Caps and Blue Jackets back in early November of that same year.
To this day, when I think of Jersey #17 for the Caps, I think of Chris Clark who incidentally wore the same number that hockey great Wendell Clark had worn with the Toronto Maple Leafs and wonder if that was part of the reason he had been assigned #17. Once Clark was gone, his number was given to fourth liners and enforcer types, like DJ King and Aaron Volpatti. Mentally, when seeing the other #17’s with the Caps, I would do my mental protest of “that’s Clark’s number”.
By Diane Doyle