In all honesty, I can’t even believe that I am writing this. I’m sure many of you have noticed by now that I am a bit of a Leaf fan, and I can say with certainty that I did not expect Clarke MacArthur to look so available this close to free agency. Yet, as much as it infuriates me it also makes me, and hopefully many other Jets fans, a little hopeful that we may be able to see him here in Winnipeg.
Why Want Him?
Before you even continue reading this, I think you should head over to this article that Cam Charron wrote about MacArthur shortly after the Leafs were ousted from the playoffs. Cam does a great job in pointing out how the Leafs as a whole were a much better puck possession team with MacArthur on the ice over the last three years, and highlights multiple players (Grabovski, Kulemin, Kessel, Connolly & Frattin) that had much better Corsi percentages while playing with him over the last couple seasons.
He provides a versatility and depth that the Jets desperately need in the system, as seen by his ability to move around from the Leafs "shut down" third line, to their top line when Lupul was out for his extended stretches of the season. Clarke is an extremely hard working, defensively dependable left winger with a strong offensive upside. He may not be the flashiest player on the ice, but he can put the puck in the net (he was a 20 goal scorer in 2 of the last 3 years, was on pace to hit 16 this year) and an excellent play maker (only 2 years removed from a 40 assist season). Not to mention he as an attitude and approach to hockey that would be well respected here in Winnipeg. Should he come out West, I would have no doubt that he would become somewhat of a fan favourite in a short period of time.
Why is He Available?
So if Clarke MacArthur is so great, why is he available?
I’ll give you two reasons. The first is Tyler Bozak. For some ridiculous reason, a lot of the Toronto based MSM love Tyler Bozak. For even more ridiculous reasons, the Leafs front office seem to love Tyler Bozak as a top line center alongside Phil Kessel. Therefore, Tyler Bozak is most likely going to get a ridiculous contract worth way too much money. (See this Cam Charron article for further explanation) Clarke MacArthur’s agent will likely know this, and walk into any contract negotiations simply pointing out how much better MacArthur is in every facet of the game (outside of face offs), and demand that he gets more money. Dave Nonis likely will not like this very much, and let Clarke walk.
Secondly, Clarke MacArthur has become very under appreciated and misused in Toronto since Randy Carlyle took over. Look no further than the Leafs playoff matchup against the Bruins for proof. After the game one blowout, MacArthur was wrongly chosen to be a spectator for games 2 & 3, before coming back to score the game tying goal in game 4, and the game winning goal in game 5 in less than 9:00 minutes of ice time in both games. He finished the series with 2 goals and an assist in 5 games. (Let me remind you that the Pittsburgh Penguins only managed 2 goals against the Bruins in an entire series) Although there has been no publicly stated rift between player and coach, you have to think MacArthur believes he might be better suited on a team where he recieves more respect and ice time.
Why Not Sign Him?
Why wouldn’t the Jets go after Clarke MacArthur? In all likelihood, the money might scare Chevy away. Despite the coming reduction of the salary cap MacArthur is going to earn more than his current $3.25-million/year deal, especially once he has the Tyler Bozak contract as a comparable. Personally I would be okay with going around $4-million a year, but with teams like Philly offering up term and dollars like it’s Hallowe’en, predicting free agent value is next to impossible.
Even if MacArthur was good to go around $4-million, the Jets already have Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane taking up the first and second line LW positions. Although he would provide the depth that the Jets really need, that’s a hefty price to pay for it. A third line role or move to the right wing may not be what Clarke is looking to walk into either (as I mentioned above). Few may know that the Atlanta franchise actually took MacArthur to arbitration in 2010 before letting him walk in exchange for signing Andrew Ladd. Although the team is under completely new management and in a new city, he may also be hesitant to backslide to a team that has let him go before.
It’s simple. Clarke MacArthur is an excellent hockey player. He is responsible defensively, can put the puck in the net, and works hard night in and night out. In other words, he is exactly the type of player the Jets want and need. He’s the type of player I would be okay with Chevy slightly overpaying for, and would really start to build the organization depth and internal competition Coach Noel needs to motivate his guys. In a dangerously thin free agent pool this year Clarke MacArthur may really be a diamond in the rough, and worth a look if the franchise is to part ways with the waiver wire squad.