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Play Of The Day: Clutterbuck Snipe vs. Rangers at the Garden

Cal Clutterbuck lifts Good over Evil with late-game laser vs. Rangers

New York Rangers v New York Islanders
You’re a good listener...and a jerk.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Five years, $17.5 million.

Let’s just get this part out of the way right off the bat. That’s the contract extension that Islanders GM Garth Snow offered Cal Clutterbuck last December. And that’s the contract extension onto which Clutterbuck signed his name. It kicks in this upcoming season and carries an average annual value of $3.5 million. There’s a very good chance his annual salary exceeds yours. And that’s because you’re a loser.

It’s a bad contract. The term, the value, it’s all bad. I’m not going to make some desperate attempt to justify it. I’m just stating the obvious so we can set the contract aside and try to put forth a fair assessment of the player, independent of his compensation.

He’s not a prolific scorer; he’s not a shut-down defender. He doesn’t drive possession. He plays a reckless style not conducive to staying healthy.

But you know what? I like Cal Clutterbuck. I like his name; I like his game. And I like his name. Clutterbuck. Clutterbuck. Go on, say it.

Clutterbuck's the type of player whose impact isn’t entirely quantifiable. Yes, that’s an old school hockey cliché. It applies here. We can dismiss high hit totals as prone to home-scorekeeper bias or as indicative of your team not having the puck and laugh with each other here on the internet. We can turn up our noses at the old heads, and lift our pinkies as we drink our fine cups of tea and/or purple drank.

But hockey’s still a physical sport. And sports are not played on the internet; they’re played on spreadsheets. Wait, no that’s not what I meant to say. The games are played on paper. Dammit, I did it again. Hockey is...oh who gives a sh*t.

Today’s Play Of The Day is Cal Clutterbuck’s game-winning goal with 1:28 remaining in the 3/6/2016 game against the Rangers in MSG.

[Please note: I’m in the process of working some kinks out with these animations. In the interim, you can click on the clip to view a better quality version in a pop-up.)

This play is perfectly-executed. I mean this more as a plain statement of fact than one of praise. This can be the first clip shown under “Offensive Zone Faceoff, One Second Left.” (Yes, two seconds tick off the clock, but the puck’s well into the net at 1:29. Had this been an end-game scenario with each tenth of a second carefully accounted for, that would’ve been the official time of this goal.)

Now, I think the best thing to do here is to create a numbered list so as to give off the impression of coherence. Here are 15 thoughts on no. 15 Cal Clutterbuck:

1. This is where we must separate process from results. That this play was perfectly executed does not make Jack Capuano's decision to throw the fourth line out there for an offensive zone faceoff with under two minutes left in a tie game a smart one. That's just asinine. Even if it’s the best fourth line in world history, it’s still a fourth line.

What’s worse is the fourth line was on the ice for three of the four Rangers goals. The Islanders blew a 3-0 lead in this game and the fourth line played an integral role in that. So it’s not like Cappy sent them out there at this moment because they’d been buzzing all night and playing their A-game.

2. At the same time, this play was sweet as hell so who cares.

3. Clutterbuck has a really good, hard shot. In fact, I think Brock Nelson and John Tavares might be the only Isles with harder shots than him. Maybe Andrew Ladd, too. Point is, he can really let it rip, and he doesn’t need a lot of time or space to do so. When he does, his favorite target is top-right corner:

This seems to be the case whether shooting blocker side or glove side.

4. When Cal scored this go-ahead goal in Game 3 against Tampa, I couldn’t even tell the puck went in, it was such a laser.

But it did go in, trust me. And wow, look at all those happy people celebrating. I know, I know. Things didn’t end so well that night. We lost a heart-breaker and my Optimum remote literally lost its life. I smashed the sh*t out of it, straight up. I have anger management issues ☺.

Anyway, in life, it's always best to suppress and ignore painful memories. Let's do this now by watching once more as Clutter roofs this baby top shelf, where mamma hides the cookies.

5. Despite possessing a wicked wrister, he’s neither a high-volume shooter nor a prolific one. He’s topped 10% shooting just once in his career, during this 2015-16 season, when he shot a clearly-aberrational 18.8% en route to 15 goals, his highest total as an Islander (his career high is 19). Still, he’s cast in more of a shut-down role, starting the vast majority (60%) of his shifts in the defensive zone. He’s not relied on to score, so that he’s capable of rifling one home on occasion is nice.

6. When he’s feeling it, he’s also capable of carrying the puck effectively. Particularly when matched up against a defenseman like Kevin Bieksa (who misses Clutterbuck with a hip-check here but connects solidly with the PIX 11 board advertisement, likely sending at least one Mets starter to the DL in the process).

7. Or when down by four goals with a minute left:

Hey, that’s still Patrick Kane he strips the puck from before darting down the ice for the shorty. I could’ve misled you by cropping the score out, leaving open the possibility that this goal was of consequence. But I didn’t do that. Because I would never lie to you. I hope you know that.

8. There’s a small part of me that struggles to separate Clutterbuck from the player the Isles traded for him, Nino Niederreiter. I’m not gonna lie, I still think about it, and the contract extension sort of resurrected, and compounded, my displeasure (“so we traded the better, younger player for him and now we’re overpaying him, too?”).

9. There’s also a small part of me that believes in ghosts. Maybe I’m kidding when I say that, maybe I’m being serious. Let’s just leave it alone.

10. Last thing on that deal: has any other trade even come close to Cal Clutterbuck-for-Nino Niederreiter as far as name quality? I think not. Those are two fantastic names. And the significance of this cannot be understated. I mean, it’s almost unbelievable how insignificant this is.

11. But enough about ghosts. I mean goals. Enough about goals. We’re talking about Cal Clutterbuck right now. This guy is known first and foremost as an agitator, as someone who throws his body around with great frequency. Thankfully, he does so without taking penalties. Compared to other guys who regularly average three-plus hits per game, Cal’s as disciplined as they come. Most of his checks are by the book.

But he still crosses the line somewhat regularly. For example, is this hit on Justin Williams a legal one?

I...guess so? Does he catch him in the chest or up high? Either way, it was a late hit. And Clutterbuck was definitely aware that Williams didn’t see him until the very last second. It’s borderline, but Clutterbuck has a knack for pushing buttons like this without getting called. He helps himself out by never doing anything blatantly violent and by doing things like feigning concern after the play to reinforce his always-clean intent.

12. OK, but what’s the point, right? “How does Clutterbuck crossing the line help this team? Studies conclusively show that hits don’t lead to good stuff and bla bla bla gritz, sarcasm, etc.”

Look, I’m not saying I’d rather have Clutterbuck on my team than Matt Duchene. Or that stuff like this makes up for his shortcomings. But this is part of the game. Intimidation, tenacity, a willingness to throw your body around. This impacts teammates and opponents in immeasurable ways. Maybe next season we’re playing Carolina and Williams, seeing an oncoming Clutterbuck out of the corner of his eye, turns the puck over (like Brian Campbell does in the above NYI-CHI clip) and it leads directly to an Isles goal. Maybe Anthony Beauvillier gets juiced up after seeing a big hit like this and saves a goal following a furious back-check on his next shift.

I’m obviously not listing these remote possibilities to further any kind of argument here other than to say there are other factors at play than just goals or shot attempts. That we cannot quantify these factors doesn’t give us free reign to ignore terrible play in the name of “intangibles,” but it’s still important to recognize there’s more to the story.

Clutterbuck leads by example and puts his body on the line; to dismiss this entirely because of his disproportionately high salary and crappy Corsi number is to foolishly limit hockey to a few statistics (that may very well be pushed towards obsolescence once real-time tracking data becomes more prominent).

13. A few weeks after that Rangers goal, he scored this OT winner in Carolina:

The shot was way high and wide but it bounced in off the chest of no. 74 Jaccob Slavin. FYI these are the kinds of plays that contribute towards an 18% shooting season.

14. Did Clutterbuck’s bank shot cause Slavin to swear vengeance on the Islanders? Vengeance that came in the form of his scoring 15% of his total points the following season against us, including a hat trick in that horrid 8-4 romping? Yes, that is correct. However, I think we can all appreciate the need to take vengeance on our enemies. And sometimes, revenge tastes sweeter than a cold, refreshing glass of turkey blood, as the saying goes.

15. The two celebrations bear uncanny resemblance with one another. Some of you might prefer variety, but I like consistency. Everyone needs his or her own trademark celly. I personally employ a Hickey-style windmill fist-pump anytime I run for a train and catch it, or successfully restart my login password at work.

Speaking of which, I'm gonna go change my password to Clutterbuck15. I suggest you all do the same. Then we can all have matching passwords!

Thus concludes my review of Cal Clutterbuck. The takeaway here, aside from the fact that ghosts are real, is this: I think it best to separate the player from the contract.

Sure, he’s overpaid, but he’s a guy I’m happy to have on our fourth line. He’s fun to watch, he hits people, he can snipe it and he’s got a great name. He’s capable of influencing this team in a positive manner; he just needs to lay off the turkey blood and stay healthy. If he doesn’t, well, we’re all screwed. Every last one of us. Also, it’s good when bad things happen to the Rangers. Don’t forget that.