Toronto Maple Leafs: No Reason to Bring Clarke MacArthur Back

Matthew ShaneContributor IIApril 22, 2011

TORONTO - SEPTEMBER 27: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoots during warmup before a preseason NHL game at the Air Canada Centre against the Buffalo Sabres on September 27, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

Until James Reimer started leaping tall buildings in a single bound, there's no question that Clarke MacArthur was the biggest surprise of the Toronto Maple Leafs 2010-11 season. Making a paltry (by NHL standards at least) $1.1 million, MacArthur burst onto the Toronto scene as if shot from a cannon, scoring six goals and adding two assists in his first 10 games as a Maple Leaf. Seemingly catalyzing the classically-underachieving Russian tandem of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, MacArthur finished the season tied for an astonishing 39th in the league with a career-high 62 points.

Now a restricted free agent, MacArthur has options. He can stick with the Leafs, who would apparently be happy to have him, or he can consider playing the field and seeing what other teams might be willing to offer. Staying with the Leafs would mean remaining paired with Grabovski and Kulemin, who clearly helped MacArthur excel throughout the season. On the other hand, given his production levels, it's likely that he'd gain a good amount of attention on the free agent market.

So what should he do? Well...that's a question that only Mr. MacArthur can answer.

What the Leafs should do, however, is more clear-cut: They should let MacArthur go.

I know this goes somewhat against the grain of popular opinion, and that many of you may be wondering what I'm smoking. But hopefully you'll give me the chance to make my case. In fact, I'll make nine cases...

Case No. 1: MacArthur will no longer be a bargain-basement deal.

Phil Kessel was 36th in the league in scoring in 2010 and managed 11 goals and two points more than MacArthur over the course of the season. And yet, Kessel has received considerably greater criticism than he has accolades, and one hears very little about how great a season Kessel had.

Why? Two reasons: a) Expectations for Kessel started out higher, and b) Kessel was paid an awful lot more to do his job. $4.3 million more, or 391 percent more, to be exact.

Why is this relevant? Because in the day and age of salary caps, it's no longer enough to produce; players must now also demonstrate a clear "bang-for-your-buck". MacArthur's bang was clearly bigger than his buck in 2010; however, he's now going to command a significantly great amount in 2011, and there are good reasons to believe that this will make him a lesser value for the Leafs than the average fan realizes.

Case No. 2: Regression to the Mean

It's a well-established phenomenon: While extreme scores are bound to occur, the law of averages predicts that subsequent scores will more likely fall closer to the long-term mean. In MacArthur's case, this means that his performance next year is considerably more likely to approach his career averages than they are to replicate, or extend, his 2010 numbers.

His career averages prior to last season were 16 goals and 17 assists (assuming he plays all 82 games), which is hardly anything to scoff at, but not necessarily worth drooling over either. In fact, those are numbers that many players in the league are capable of replicating, and in light of the fact that MacArthur is going to be asking for a hefty salary increase, it may be advisable for the Leafs to consider consulting their rolodex instead.

Case No. 3: MacArthur's second-half performance was less impressive than you think.

The average fan is aware of two things about MacArthur: He started out the season as if like a bat out of hell, and he ended up with an impressive 62 points. Not to scoff at these accomplishments, because they are, truly, solid accomplishments, but they also smudge over the fact that MacArthur's second-half performance did not quite match his performance at the start of the season.

In fact, if you break the season into quarters and consider MacArthur's performance during each 20 (or 21) game stretch, the following numbers pop out:

First 20 Games711+3
Second 21 Games512even
Third 20 Games65-5
Fourth 21 Games313-3

While MacArthur was able to keep his assists up for the majority of the season (minus a significant dip in the third quarter), his goal-scoring and his plus/minus both suffered as the season went on. And while these decreases may not appear substantial, consider that Grabovski's and Kulemin's goal scoring prowess did not show a similar dip:

  Gabovski  Kulemin 
First 20 Games511+476even
Second 21 Games125+298+1
Third 20 Games74+156+4
Fourth 21 Games59+695+2

                               One additional point to note is that MacArthur was the only one of this trio to sport a negative plus/minus. More on this in a bit.

Case No. 4: MacArthur has a habit of stalling out in the second half

I understand that the numbers I've shown above aren't condemning. While there's no question that MacArthur lost his ability to find the net with the same regularity as the season went on, he still found ways to set up his teammates and certainly remained a productive member of the team.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that MacArthur has a habit of giving the goal judge nights off as the season progresses. In fact, his performance with the Leafs was nearly a mirror image of his performance in both 2008 and 2009 with Buffalo. In 2008 he potted four goals in his first six games, but then only managed 12 more in his final 75 games; and in 2009, he lit the lamp six times in his first 11 games, but then suffered through two separate droughts of 16 and 20 games each.

There is no denying that MacArthur had a great season with the Leafs in 2010, but his production is too sporadic, and his reduced production as the season progresses too reliable, to be worth the Leafs investing too much money in.

Case No. 5: MacArthur is a career minus player

The stats I reported above showed that MacArthur was a minus-five for the season. Not terrible, but somewhat alarming given that his Russian teammates were plus-seven and plus-14, respectively.

Moreover, Grabovski and Kulemin were even or plus in every quarter of the 2010 season, while MacArthur was only able to accomplish this during his miraculous first quarter. That, combined with the fact that MacArthur hasn't been able to boast a plus-season since in 2007 (during which he only appeared in 37 games), and has never been shown the ability to be a plus player when he's played through a full season of hockey, suggests that he may not be the huge asset that his fans think he is.

Case No. 6: The Russians have arrived

It's true that the Leafs second line of MacArthur, Kulemin and Grabovski were a force to be reckoned with and were arguably the best second line in the NHL in 2010. That alone is a good reason for the Leafs to try to keep the line together, as chemistry between linemates is difficult to find, and easy to lose.

MacArthur has gotten a lot of credit for the sudden rise of this line from the ashes, and some of this credit is certainly warranted. However, the fact remains that scouts around the NHL have been waiting with baited breath for Kulemin and (especially) Grabovski to finally demonstrate the potential that they clearly both possess. For this reason, the extent to which MacArthur was truly responsible for the breakout seasons that the Russian duo put together is up for some debate.

Indeed, if you really think about it, MacArthur (who improved on his best season by 31 points) may have more to thank Grabovski and Kulemin for than the other way around (Grabovski only improved on his best season by 10 points, and Kulemin has only been in the league three seasons and has shown consistent improvement each season). Thus, it seems likely that the Russians are going to continue to perform even if they're forced to be paired with a different left-winger.

Case No. 7: The Leafs are chocked full of potential second liners

What do all of these players have in common: Kadri, Colborne, Lupul, Bozak, Armstrong, Frattin? Lots of things, actually:

a) They all have talent and will all one day be productive NHL players.

b) All of them (with the possible exception of Armstrong) is a small but feisty playmaker not well-suited to a third or fourth line.

c) While some of them may eventually get there, none of them are ready to take the position of a top-three forward.

Which is to say that all of them are potential candidates to take MacArthur's position as a second-line winger. Who will end up with the position? My guess is that it will be Kadri, since Lupul will likely stay on the first line, and Armstrong and Bozak will likely have duties manning line three.

Nonetheless, with this many options, there's no reason for the Leafs to feel do-or-die about resigning MacArthur. Despite the fact that he had a breakout season, he's very replaceable with assets that already reside in-house.

Case No. 8: Kadri deserve his chance

Whether you agree with me that Kadri is the most likely candidate to scoop up MacArthur's spot on line two or not, the fact of the matter is that he deserves his chance with the big squad. And feel free to speak up if you disagree, but I don't believe that putting a talent like Kadri on line three or four equates to giving him a fair chance. In fact, if the Leafs are going to waste a talent like Kadri by throwing him onto the third or fourth line, then I think they'd be better off just trading him for the man they really want, whoever he may be.

If you agree with me about this, then you agree that Kadri needs a top-six position next year. And if that's the case, then someone has to go. Cue MacArthur, exit stage left.

Case No. 9: Forming the Leafs' four lines is actually easier without him

The Leafs' four lines actually come together more easily, and with fewer question marks, without MacArthur in the picture. Consider what these lines might look like:

Line 1: Kessel, Lupul, TBA Free-agent Center

Line 2: Grabovski, Kulemin, Kadri

Line 3: Bozak, Armstrong and one of: Colborne or Frattin

Line 4: Three of: Brent, Boyce, Crabb, Orr and Brown

Honestly, I think these look like solid lines. Sure there's a couple of question marks, namely who in the world the Leafs are going to find to center their first line. But line two looks good and gives Kadri his chance to shine; line three looks like it has the potential to be one of the best third lines in hockey (and gives Colborne/Frattin their chances to shine), and line four is a perfectly solid checking line.

However, if you add MacArthur into the mix, everything gets messed up. Kadri gets kicked to line three, Colborne gets kicked to line four, and Frattin doesn't get his chance at all. None of those moves have good long-term value for the Leafs, and so they should be prevented if at all possible.

And so, in conclusion, I ask you: For what possible reason would the Leafs want to retain MacArthur?

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Interested in more of my opinions? Check out my recent article on James Reimer: