Why Clarke MacArthur shouldn’t have played his last game as a Leaf

Wikimedia commons

Clarke MacArthur was picked up for a song late in the 2010 free agency period. There was nothing terribly wrong with MacArthur. He scored 16 goals in a season split between the Atlanta Thrashers and Buffalo Sabres the year before, but apparently, the Thrashers’ acquisition of Andrew Ladd that summer made MacArthur an expendable piece.

Ladd has since become the captain of the franchise after the move to Winnipeg, while the team walked away from MacArthur’s $2.4-million arbitration award, one they didn’t really fight. Reading up on it now, it sounds like the Thrashers terribly mis-managed MacArthur, seeing the 16-goal scorer as a third liner who didn’t fit into their system.

The Leafs, who had the cap room, spent the aforementioned song on MacArthur, which ended up being $440K less than the qualifying offer MacArthur rejected. The Leafs re-upped him for two seasons two summers ago, a more appropriate $3.25-million, and he scored 20 goals in 2012 and a pro-rated 16 in 2013.

He’s up for free agency again, but there is very little buzz.

How come there is very little buzz surrounding MacArthur’s free agency? Yesterday I noted that no reporter asked Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis a single question about MacArthur. It was all Tyler Bozak this, James Reimer that, as if there remains any questions about Bozak’s or Reimer’s value.

But MacArthur is different. MacArthur played on the MGK line that had a pile of success in two seasons, with Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin. They were split this season, with MacArthur being used as little more than a fill-in when he had to. He replaced Joffrey Lupul on the Leafs’ first line when Lupul broke his forearm. He played alongside Nazem Kadri on the Leafs’ third line. He was reunited—briefly—with MGK in the first half of the season.

In the playoffs, MacArthur was a healthy scratch in Game 2 and Game 3, only to come back in Game 4 and score a monumental tying goal, followed up with the winner in Game 5. Despite looking like a top six forward, he didn’t get a lot of ice-time, playing just 8:50 and 7:13 in those two games before seeing regular shifts in the sixth and seventh games of the series, somewhat reunited with MGK, somewhat shutting down the dangerous Krejci-Lucic-Horton line the Bruins offered up.

Here is how forwards do, Corsi-wise, with MacArthur on the ice and without them. I’ve boiled it down to a graph. You can see that MGK is a very proficient line. Grabovski and MacArthur were 55.2% together, which is very, very good. Anything over 50 is good, anything over 53 is great, and once you’re in the 55% range, you’re looking at some very good puck-possession. Five of those seven forwards are better off with MacArthur on the ice as opposed to without:

Exceptions are just Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak. These players have all gone 150 minutes with MacArthur and the trend appears to be “yes, MacArthur does things that helps tilt the shot the needle in the Leafs’ way”. MacArthur isn’t unbelievably skilled, but he’s very aggressive, very tough and very versatile. He sacrifices his body to make the play, uses his size and speed to create turnovers in all three zones and is the ultimate blue-collar hockey player.

He is the type of guy Toronto should love. I won’t tell you how your emotions should work, but MacArthur, thanks to his work ethic and success in face of not being the most skilled player on the ice strikes me as being an eminently likeable player.

Compare his Corsi On to Corsi Off: that’s the rate of shot attempts “for” the Maple Leafs subtracted by shot attempts “against”, expressed as a rate over 60 minutes. The blue is MacArthur, the red is the rest of the team:

It seems to me that the Leafs ran into some problems when Randy Carlyle separated MGK. Despite the usage of that line, the Leafs got some great goaltending and a career season from Kessel and Kadri to bring them into the playoffs despite not having a lot of production from their depth players. MGK in its first year was not only controlling the puck, but scoring a tonne of goals and were called “the best second line in hockey” by people other than me or other number crunchers. People were taking note. Then it stopped this season on a dime for no apparent reason.

If the Leafs let MacArthur walk, it will be a huge mistake, just as it was when the Thrashers let him go. Maybe they think that the addition of the versatile James van Riemsdyk makes MacArthur redundant, but it can never be a redundancy to have lots of very good hockey players on your hockey team.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

      • jasken

        Why are you people constantly comparing a LW’s to a Centers. I like Mac I would love to seem him return the fact he should get his 4-5mil this season is irrelevant the Leafs wont pay him that no more then they will pay Bozak. Compare MacA to JVR and Lupul they all share same position are you gonna keep MacA over Lupul or JVR or pay 4-5mil to a 3rd liner behind them 2.

  • MaxPower417

    Mac is one of my favourite players but I don’t see it happening. I honestly doubt he would want to come back after the way he was utilized this season.