The NHL regular season hasn’t even started yet and David Clarkson has managed to damage the playoff hopes of his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs mess up their salary-cap situation and jeopardize their chances of signing defenceman Cody Franson.

All this with one stupid decision.

Leafs general manager David Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle must be thrilled with their prize free-agent signing. Clarkson was officially suspended by the NHL for the first 10 games of the 2013-14 season on Monday.

League rules call for an automatic 10 regular-season games for anyone who leaves the players’ bench or penalty box to join an altercation on the ice – as Clarkson did last Sunday during a preseason against the Buffalo Sabres.

Securing a playoff spot will be more difficult this season due to realignment with 16 teams in the Eastern Conference chasing eight berths while eight of 14 teams in the Western Conference will make the postseason. The Leafs also have to worry about the Detroit Red Wings joining the Atlantic Division to make it even harder.

Now the Leafs will be without a key player for almost one-eighth of the schedule (until Oct. 25). A quick start has always been imperative in landing a playoff spot and Clarkson was supposed to bring the grit in the battles for the puck the Leafs need to boost their offence.

Two years ago the Columbus Blue Jackets signed defenceman James Wisniewski to a big contract in the hope he would help them finally reach the playoffs. But he drew a suspension for the first eight games of the regular season for a head shot on another player. The Jackets went 1-7 and their playoff aspirations were dead by mid-October.

Granted the Leafs are a much better team than the Blue Jackets in 2011 but losing Clarkson takes away what Nonis and Carlyle thought would be a key upgrade this season.

“We set out a plan for the first day of training camp” Carlyle said after Leafs practice Monday. “Now that plan has changed. You have to adjust things on the fly. You have to have plan A BC and D in the drawer. We’re at plan I guess B and C right now.”

Plan A was probably to have Clarkson skating on the second line with centre Nazem Kadri and left winger Joffrey Lupul. That job may now go to Mason Raymond who was awarded with a contract Monday.