MLHS Player Reviews is doing their best to round out the Leafs top six (hint-hint, Dave) by profiling alternate captain, left winger and pending UFA, Clarke MacArthur. In his third season with the Maple Leafs, the Lloydminster, Alberta native tallied eight goals and 12 assists en route to 20 points in 40 games played. Yet his season, like so many Leafs, was tumultuous, and his future in Toronto is unclear.
Mostly used as a second line or ‘1A’ winger since arriving in Toronto, MacArthur was bumped up and down through the lineup this season, skating on an offense-minded third line with Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin or Colton Orr, or a two-way third line with Mikhail Grabovski and Matt Frattin (or, sadly, Colton Orr).
MacArthur’s play style can be hard to define, as he possesses a lot of tools but no truly dominant one. While both creative with the puck and fairly sturdy along the boards, I wouldn’t typify his game as purely skill based or rugged. He has a great first step and good speed, and a deceptively accurate wrist and slap shot (career 13.9% shooting is nothing to sniff at). When he’s on his game, he’s first in on the forecheck, and finds a way to separate himself from the opposition in front of the net.
He rounds out his offensive game with laudable passing skills, the vision to find an open, attacking player, and the numbers to back it up. Interestingly enough, MacArthur was the best Leaf player at driving the puck towards the opposition’s net, evidenced by his team leading Corsi score (yes, of -3.93, but seriously this team was outshot handily all season). His relative Corsi score of 16.2 was the highest on the team, further evidence to both his possession game and ability to contribute offense in less noticeable ways.
Yet one of MacArthur’s biggest knocks is that he’s inconsistent offensively; and his critics point to his declining box stats since his 62-point debut in 2010-11. But a lot of the numbers simply don’t bear it out. While hardly earthshattering, his 20 points was 6th best among Leaf forwards; as was his .50 points per game average. Acceptable – if unspectacular – numbers from a second line winger.
In truth, MacArthur’s offensive prowess extends well beyond this season. In the 195 games that MacArthur has played in Toronto he’s produced at a notable .64 point per game pace. MacArthur’s 125 points tie him for the second most (with Grabovski) among Leafs in the past three seasons.
The most proximate cause of MacArthur’s purported offensive woes this season appear to stem from his usage and time on ice. In 2013, MacArthur played just under 15 minutes a night and was featured on the second power play unit where he received a meagre 1:38 of ice-time a game. He saw 17 minutes a night, three on the powerplay, in his heroic 2010-11 season and scored 19 points (roughly 1/3 of his total) on the man advantage. He also averaged 2 shots per game in his first two seasons in Toronto and only 1.5 this one. He had less time and fewer opportunities to succeed this season than in seasons past, and his offense receded because of it. Even in a reduced role he’s a 40-point guy, and clearly capable of more.
Though it must be said he has faults. Though scoring can be fairly random and luck driven on a game-to-game basis, if MacArthur isn’t scoring, he’s not always providing much value to on-ice product. While no slouch in his own zone, he doesn’t have the defensive acumen and reliability to make him an ideal hybrid winger. His competition numbers suggest that he was lining up against third liners, not top offensive guys. It is easier to drive play against a weaker opponent than yourself.
And while not particularly a knock on his game per se, he doesn’t seem to be on the right side of Randy Carlyle. The 2012-13 season provided clear evidence that Carlyle has and plays his favourites; and MacArthur was not of them. He was benched during the regular season; and in Games 2 and 3 of the playoffs before returning to the lineup and tallying goals in back to back games. Even with the clutch production, MacArthur still saw his ice time drop by almost two-and-a-half minutes in post season.
Should GM Dave Nonis choose to go in another direction and not re-sign Clarke MacArthur, it could come down to some simple numbers games. The Leafs already have a capable flight of scoring wingers signed in Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, Nik Kulemin and Matt Frattin. The salary cap is falling and while the Leafs have a bevy of cap space right now, it will quickly be eaten up by more prominent Leafs like Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson and Carl Gunnarsson. With free agency fast approaching, the team’s needs are defense-minded defensemen and effective checkers to fill out the bottom half of the forward ranks.
That only leaves so many dollars, and so many spots, and it could spell an abrupt end to the mercurial tenure of one of the best Leaf scorers in the Burke era.
Plays of the Year:
Without a doubt, the biggest goal Clarke MacArthur has ever scored in a blue and white jersey. MacArthur kicks an errant puck forward to himself, blows past the flat-footed Bruins defender and cuts sharply to the inside to tuck a backhander past Tuukka Rask in Game 5. The goal stood up as the eventual winner, and showcases the speed and cerebral play that hallmarks Clarke’s play.
What’s so impressive about this play from MacArthur might not be readily noticeable, but he does a bunch of great things that lead to this goal. He harasses the Flyers’ D, leading to a turnover then heads to the front of the net. MacArthur then provides a screen in front of a shot, and then circles the Flyers to create space for himself and lose his checker. Only after outplaying the five Flyers skaters was Clarke ready to outclass Bryzgalov on this goal.
He’s a magic man, with magic hands. MacArthur slips to the front of the net then quickly and deftly tucks the puck through Johan Hedberg’s wickets.
RATE THIS PLAYER: Out of 10, rate Clarke MacArthur’s season relative to his role, opportunity/usage and the expectations for the player entering the season. Be sure to back it up.