Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Brief Wondrous Life of Clarke MacArthur

Clarke MacArthur joined the Leafs with very little fanfare in the summer of 2010 after the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from an arbitration award of $2.4M, thereby making him an unrestricted free agent.  Burke then signed MacArthur that summer for a relatively modest $1.1M salary.

Having posted 35 points the previous season while splitting time between the Buffalo Sabres and the Atlanta Thrashers, there were few who could have predicted the season MacArthur would soon have.

MacArthur came spinning into the lineup like a whirling dervish and developed great chemistry with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.  The trio soon became the Leafs' de facto top unit and MacArthur's 62 points were second to only Phil Kessel among Leaf skaters.

This strong campaign landed MacArthur a 2-year contract at a cap hit of $3.25M per season.

Brian Burke candidly and publicly discussed the negotiations with MacArthur, stating that it was very difficult to determine what a fair offer would be.  While MacArthur's 62-point campaign was impressive, he was by no means an established 60-point player.  The short term of the contract was an opportunity for MacArthur to assert himself as a point producing top-six forward and then to cash in when the deal expired.

This year has been a tale of two seasons for MacArthur.  The first story is one of a player who has failed to produce offensively.  His 21 points in 41 games played are well behind the pace he set last season and he has found himself skating on the team's third or fourth line with increasing regularity.

If we look at the advanced statistics however, we see a bit of a different story.  MacArthur is third on the Leafs in goals/60 minutes of icetime, behind only Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.  His Corsi number is also reasonably good (though it is padded to an extent by favourable zone starts).  When controlling for quality of competition, his Corsi is 5th among the Leafs' regular forwards.  In short, these numbers tell the story of a player who seems to be getting the job done.

Now, I'm generally a believer in advanced statistics (when properly used) and I think that they've come a long way in recent years thanks to some great work (particularly by the folks at BehindtheNet) but I try to read them with at least a measure of skepticism.  The truth is, hockey isn't conducive to the kind of sabremetric analysis that baseball is.  Our game doesn't have the same precise and linear units of measurement.  In baseball, a single is the same as another single.  In hockey, all shots are not created equal.  Also, a batter is solely responsible for his result against a given pitcher (with minor exceptions for remarkable defensive plays, &c.).  In hockey, shots, goals, and almost any other measure of production that we've created, measures the output produced by a 5-man unit.  We try to control for these things wherever possible, but again, it isn't as cut and dry as baseball.

Clarke MacArthur, for me, is a player where the advanced statistics are creating a bit of a mirage.  In watching the games, I haven't seen much in MacArthur that leads me to believe he's a top-6 forward this year.  That doesn't mean that I don't think he's a reasonably good player, but I view him as more of a 'tweener' than an actual top-6 player.  He doesn't seem to be particular great at anything (skating, shooting, passing) but does everything reasonably well.  Those are my opinions, based on observation, and I'd encourage everyone to read those at least as skeptically as the underlying advanced stats.

So with rumours swirling that MacArthur's time with the Leafs is likely drawing to an end and no lesser name than Darren Dreger fanning the flames on TSN radio, we're forced to ask why MacArthur has to be traded.  The Leafs find themselves in a position where they have very little cap space heading into next season and some clear holes in the lineup that need to be filled.  If keeping Clarke MacArthur were the difference between losing Mikhail Grabovski or retaining him, then I would drive MacArthur to the airport myself.

Ultimately, that might be what it comes down to.  MacArthur is a good player, and would certainly be a useful addition for a team with more cap flexibility than the Leafs but right now, he doesn't fit into our payroll structure.

The question that we're left with then is whether the deal with Nashville in the summer where Toronto acquired Lombardi and Franson was worth the cost of MacArthur?


DP said...

"The question that we're left with then is whether the deal with Nashville in the summer where Toronto acquired Lombardi and Franson was worth the cost of MacArthur?"

Of course it was because you can still trade Lombardi for a prospect/draft pick and keep MacArthur and Franson. There are allready rumours about Western teams interested in Lombardi.

Anonymous said...

I dont know if its fair to say you can easily trade lombardi for a prospect or pick. This is a guy who almost retired last summer from serious concussion issues. He may one day have value again, but this year he needs to prove he's still a pro