As usual, Brian Burke looks and sounds really confident. “Clarke MacArthur has arbitration rights and he may well file for arbitration. We’re fine if that’s what he chooses,” said Burke. “We have a lot of financial clout behind this team and we have a lot of cap space. We’re not worried about someone trying to take a player out of here through an offer sheet and we anticipate we’ll be able to re-sign all the players we want to re-sign.”
Considering how fond the management and coaching staff are of MacArthur,Â the fact his contract status remains an unsolved problem for the Leafs is somewhat surprising. On the other hand, him having a career year while being the league’s best bargain last season in Clarke’s mind could just as easily warrant a big pay day.
We could argue both sides equally. Clarke doesnâ€™t fit the bill of a greedy player. He clearly stated he wants to stay in Toronto, and showed heâ€™s a emotional, character player who played his heart out for the Leafs last season. On the other hand, we know how reluctant Burke is when it comes to giving significant salary increases to one year wonders. The differential between his second best season in the league and his career high last season is almost double in points; it’s no wonder this is a tough negotiation in which Burke is playing hardball.
Point is, MacArthur hasn’t shown a steady increase in his point totals in the NHL during his career so far (my prime indication of a steadily developing forward) to merit high confidence from his GM. His point totals last year are no doubt in part the result of increased ice time (along with PP time), but they could also very well be a flash in the pan. What of his post trade deadline slump, when MacArthur recorded just one goal in 14 games, as the Leafs were in a fight for a playoff spot? MacArthur’s struggles began right around the time the team was reportedly considering moving him prior to the NHL trade deadline. Without questioning Macâ€™s character, which has been impressive, his ability at this level and as a top six player in the NHL are still very much up in the air.
On July 4th, 2011 Claude Loiselle, the assistant GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs talked to Bill Watters of AM640 about (among other things) MacArthurâ€™s arbitration case with Atlanta last year. He indicated that Mac’s awarded 2010-11 salary ($2.4 million) was inflated because both sides wanted to walk away. Basically, it wasnâ€™t an actual or objective assessment of his value, but an increased one because both sides wanted out. Furthermore, he indicated that – because of that specific fact – he didn’t think the difference between the $2.4 million salary and the one awarded by a potential arbitration with the Leafs would be that significant.
Perhaps this is the main reason why Burke feels so confident (besides Burke being Burke) about going to arbitration with Clarke. Heâ€™ll either re-sign him to a deal benefiting the Leafs prior to tonightâ€™s arbitration filing deadline (5 p.m. ET) or will likely match the awarded salary because there is a good chance it will be in line with his current NHL value. On the off chance his value gets inflated, Burke probably won’t think twice about walking away from it.Â Weâ€™ll find out soon enough.