The 31-year-old Clark is coming off a career season in which he tallied 30 goals and 54 points while leading Caps' forwards in shifts per game. But, as with most great captains, stats only tell part of the story with Chris Clark.
Clark's defining moment as Caps' captain came back in November, and it's certainly a story worth retelling (and no one in our nation's capital tells a hockey story better than Mike Vogel):
In last Wednesday's game against Boston, Clark took a puck square in the mouth late in the third period of a 2-2 game. The shot - actually a clearing attempt - felled him, but he got back on his feet and continued his shift when he realized that the puck was still in Washington's defensive zone. The clock and the scoreboard mattered more to Clark than did the mess that had been made of his mouth.
"I saw the puck going back to my point," recalls Clark. "I'm standing there and I've got to do something. I can't just lay down; they're not going to blow the whistle right away especially if [the Bruins] have control of the puck. There's no sense in laying on the ice. My legs didn't break; I could get up and skate.
"It didn't hurt. I didn't really feel anything. My mouthguard was in, but I knew something wasn't connected."
He was right about that. Two of his teeth weren't connected. Given that he lost those teeth and also suffered a crushed palate bone, the fact that Clark remained on the ice is nothing short of remarkable. "It says that he is setting the standard," says Caps coach Glen Hanlon, when asked what the incident says about the Capitals' captain. "If that's your captain and he is doing that, then I think all the players would have to look at that and say that's what they want to try to match. And it won't be easy for them. I can say that is likely the most courageous thing I've seen in hockey."
What Clark endured the day after the puck in the mouth was probably even more courageous. His crushed palate was repaired with a cadaver bone and a screw. Three teeth on one side of the newly acquired "gap" were held together with braces. And he had a root canal. All this with merely local anesthesia. The procedure took "two or three hours," says Clark.
After all that, Clark missed a grand total of two games -- and only because the doctors wouldn't clear him to play sooner.
That tells you most of what you need to know about Clark's toughness. If you need more convincing as to his leadership skills, look no further than the fact that he was named captain of Team USA at the IIHF World Championships this past April.
All of which brings us to today and the 3-year/$7.9 million extension Clark signed to stay in D.C. Don't think that Clark couldn't have cashed in when his current contract would have run out at the end of this coming season -- he has 50 goals over the last two seasons (more than 36-year old Bill Guerin, who signed with the Isles for two years at $4.5 million per year) and would be certain to fetch a heftier salary than the ~$2.6 million per year for which he signed.
Clark taking less money than he could have made elsewhere to stay with the Caps is significant for two reasons. One, it shows his commitment to the team and his unselfishness -- he knows that Alexes Ovechkin and Semin and Olie Kolzig (among many others) are free agents after this coming season, and the team may need every inch of cap room to keep building what Clark and others believe will be a contender before long.
But perhaps equally important, as On Frozen Blog points out, it shows that the days of Washington being viewed as an undesirable destination for players are in the past (if they ever existed at all) -- Clark is now the second player this summer to take less money than he could make elsewhere to be a Washington Capital (Michael Nylander being the other). That can only help in negotiations with their own players and in attracting future free agent pieces in the Cup-winning puzzle.
The Caps and their fans are understandably excited about the future and knowing that Chris Clark will continue to be a big part of that future heightens that enthusiasm all the more. Not bad for a guy acquired for a sixth round pick.