In two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Clarke MacArthur has played 155 games and registered 105 points all while putting up very solid possession statistics. He's a very respectable second line player and at a $3.25M cap hit, he's a bargain for a team looking to seriously contend next season. Unfortunately for us, the Leafs are not that team.
The other day, I was asked if I would move MacArthur for a late first if the opportunity presented itself. My initial reaction was 'probably not' but the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that it might not be such a bad idea.
MacArthur is 27 which puts him more or less in the prime of his career. He'll still be a good player in a couple years when the Leafs have hopefully sorted out their goaltending issues and the defense corps that Burke is so fond of moves from being high on potential to high on actual results. When the Leafs are good, MacArthur will be too.
One of the problems, as I see it, is that he's in the final year of his deal and is a pending UFA. Keeping a player into that final season of a contract carries with it the risk that the player will walk at the end of the year and you'll be left with nothing. That's probably the worst case scenario.
Alternatively, it's possible that MacArthur re-signs with the Leafs. What kind of money could MacArthur expect on an extension? Well, David Jones fleeced the Avalanche out of $16M over 4 seasons while putting up worse numbers than MacArthur in every meaningful statistic. It wouldn't surprise me to see MacArthur fall closer to Grabovski's $5.5M per season than Jones' $4M, especially if he splits this difference between 2010-11's production and 2011-12's.
The thought of losing MacArthur at the end of the season wouldn't bother me so much if I thought that next season was a year where the Leafs could make some real noise in the East but the truth of the matter is that we're likely to find ourselves in the same spot we've occupied the past few years -- needing a lot of things to go right in order to make the playoffs.
With that in mind, I'm left thinking about two years from now with a best case scenario of MacArthur re-signing at, for sake of argument, $4.75M a year. Is that really money well-spent for the Leafs? With another full season of development under their belt, is it likely that MacArthur is a significantly better player than both Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin? Cam Charron over at The Leafs Nation has been using the Leafs' player usage chart a lot lately and it shows that for all the disappointment Leafs fans seem to have around Kadri's development, he's actually been a pretty effective player already. If you couple this with the fact that he's likely going to be earning half of what MacArthur does by 2013, we're forced to wonder if MacArthur is still an efficient option at that spot.
Further complicating the mental calculus is the compensation itself. If, for sake of argument, we landed a pick between 20-30, there seems to be a roughly 60% chance that the real return on MacArthur is zilch. All we get for sending him on his way is the difference in cap hit between himself and Kadri. There's a further 20% chance that the player we draft in that slot ends up being an NHL-asset but one who isn't on MacArthur's level. The final 20%, however, is made up of legitimate impact NHL players. Between 2001-2006, Corey Perry, Claude Giroux, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Cam Ward, Tuukka Rask, Corey Schneider, Mike Green, TJ Oshie, Travis Zajac, Brent Burns, Alex Steen, and Patrick Berglund were all drafted in that range over the aforementioned 6-year period.
The final argument for moving MacArthur at the draft has to do with the potential free agent crop in 2013. Have a quick look at this list and try not to salivate. Certainly, not all of Crosby, Jordan Staal, Getzlaf, Perry, Zajac, Iginla, Quick, &c. &c. will make it to free agency, but it would appear that there will be an opportunity to add some difference-making talent next offseason. The idea of allocating the $2M we save by not re-signing MacArthur to one of those players is certainly an enticing prospect.
For those of you who are completely opposed to trading MacArthur, thanks for reading this far. I understand that there comes a time where you need to draw a line in the sand and stop the roster churn. I also concede that MacArthur will still be a good player by the time the Leafs could reasonably be expected to be a good team but we can't ignore the realities of our present situation. We're a team with a lot of question marks and MacArthur is a player who probably only outperforms his contract for one more season.
Clarke MacArthur is a good player who has probably been Brian Burke's best free agent signing. He really rounded into form as a Leaf and those are the types of players that I'll always have a soft spot for. Sadly though, Clarke MacArthur is a far more useful piece to a team whose time is now than he is on a team whose time is yet to come and the Leafs, at this point in time, are the latter.