The Clarkson-Horton deal makes sense, in a marauding llama kind of way

It somehow makes sense that David Clarkson and Nathan Horton would be traded for one another. Getty Images

On a day when llamas running wild captured the attention of the world, only a trade involving David Clarkson of the Toronto Maple Leafs could come close to topping woolly creatures run amok.

But the reality is that in many ways, the Leafs trading the albatross of a contract bestowed on Clarkson is more mind-boggling than a thousand llamas running free in Arizona.

That the Leafs traded Clarkson for Nathan Horton, a player whose career might well be over, is just another element to one of the wackier hockey deals, er, business deals, er, deals you're ever going to see.

Certainly, it was a deal that caught the hockey world by surprise as we head into the final days before Monday's trade deadline.

Clarkson, of course, was signed to a whopper seven-year deal worth $36.75 million as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2013. A rugged winger with New Jersey who showed nice offensive upside, scoring 30 times with a Devils team that went to the 2012 Stanley Cup finals, Clarkson (and his contract) have been an unmitigated disaster in Toronto.

Clarkson was suspended even before he played a single regular-season game for his hometown Leafs after he left the bench during a preseason brawl in the fall of 2013.

He struggled to meet expectations and played poorly, he was hurt, and then more recently he was made a healthy scratch by new interim head coach Peter Horachek.

"Ugly" just begins to describe Clarkson's tenure in Toronto, and it looked like it would continue on, well, forever.

And now he's a Columbus Blue Jacket.

In a perfect world, the Blue Jackets would not need Clarkson.

But the world is not perfect and it is certainly not perfect in Columbus, where the Blue Jackets have suffered a miserable season after making the playoffs last spring and winning their first-ever playoff games both at home and on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Among the many problems that beset the Blue Jackets was that since they signed Horton to a seven-year $37.1 million deal, also in the summer of 2013, the former Stanley Cup winner in Boston has played in just 36 games, including none this season, and a degenerative back problem might keep him from ever playing again.

And so two players following two very different paths find themselves crossing paths in a most unlikely fashion.

For Columbus, a small-market team, paying a player who could play, albeit one who played as poorly as Clarkson sometimes played for the Leafs, was preferable to paying a better player not to play at all, as multiple sources told ESPN.com that the team did not have any of Horton's contract insured.

And to be fair to Clarkson, perhaps away from the glare and the expectation in Toronto he can regain his equilibrium and become a useful member of a Columbus team that will be looking to bounce back in a big way next season.

Indeed, there is much to like about the makeup of the Blue Jackets, just as there was much to like about Clarkson's game before he became a Leaf.

As for the Leafs, they are a team that has the wherewithal to spend money in large gobs, even if it's for a player who cannot play.

With Horton out, the Leafs will have enormous flexibility when it comes to the salary cap, as they can put him on long-term injured reserve as Boston has done with Marc Savard and Philadelphia with Chris Pronger, assuming they are going to continue to be a cap team. That flexibility could prove vital to the team as it tries to figure out how to correct the many mistakes that have been made vis-a-vis personnel.

If by some medical miracle Horton is able to return to active play, then the Leafs will have acquired a far better player than the one they traded.

And credit must go to Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis for finding a taker for a Clarkson contract that he bestowed, but which was crippling the team as it goes through yet another transformation. Indeed, the Clarkson deal follows the strong returns Nonis received for Daniel Winnik, who was traded earlier this week to the Penguins, and Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, who were traded two weeks ago to the Nashville Predators.

If, as many expect, president Brendan Shanahan decides to part ways with Nonis, his work during this trade period and especially in disposing of Clarkson will not go unnoticed by other franchises. (Of course, his earlier work in signing Clarkson, extending captain Dion Phaneuf, etc., likely won't go unnoticed either.)

And you thought llamas making a bid for freedom was as good as it was going to get on a Thursday in late February.