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What's Clarke MacArthur Worth?

One of the most difficult things that GMs in today’s NHL have to deal with is assessing proper value to their players, in terms of both monetary value and intrinsic worth to a certain team. For the Leafs, Clarke MacArthur has easily been the best bang-for-your-buck player on the Leafs’ roster this season, leading the club with 48 points and scoring a career-high 19 goals, all for the bargain basement price of $1.1 million. His current pace, which he’s maintained pretty consistently throughout the season, would see the Alberta native finish the year with 25 goals and over 60 points,clearly putting him in line for a pretty significant pay raise.

Burke has made it very clear that he’s not willing to break the bank for a player that’s having a very uncharacteristic season, and it’s a valid point. Poor contract decisions got the Leafs into the mess that Burke has been attempting to extricate them from ever since taking the reins in Toronto, and there’s no reason to get right back in the same situation. At the same time, he faces the dilemma of possibly losing a player who has shown every sign that he’s ready to be a legitimate top-six forward in the NHL, the absence of which has plagued the Leafs for the last few seasons.

As a Leaf fan, I’m glad MacArthur wasn’t dealt at the deadline, as I think he could be a valuable asset to a club that looks like it may finally be turning the corner towards at least being competitive again. Burke stated they had set an internal price for his services, and that it wasn’t met by any of the offers they were presented with. Moving forward, MacArthur will obviously be helping the Leafs in this season’s playoff push, while at the same time hopefully looking to build a contract extension with the club.

Something Burke has mentioned numerous times throughout the last week or so is the fact that he and management have been attempting to establish a true value on a player that played 3rd line minutes for the first four years of his career, and has lit it up in his first opportunity to play top-six minutes for a full season. Fortunately for Burke, such breakout seasons are a common occurrence in today’s NHL, and there are more than a few players that have faced similar scenarios in the past few seasons.

For comparative purposes, I’ve pulled the salaries and stats of a few other NHL players, namely Ryane Clowe, Jussi Jokinen, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Justin Williams, RJ Umberger and Alex Steen. All seven players are under the age of 30 and have scored similar point totals to MacArthur so far this season. Their cap hits range from $1.7 million (Jokinen) to $4.08 million (RJ Umberger), while the age range scales from 22 (Lucic) to 29 (Williams).

Clowe, a proven top-six forward with the Sharks, earned his current 4 year contract worth $15 million after a 22-goal, 52-point season in 2008-09. Differences between Clowe and MacArthur’s games do exist, with Clowe being more of a power forward and MacArthur offering a bit more playmaking ability, but I would have to think Clowe’s deal would probably be something that MacArthur and agent Don Meehan would be looking for.

If Burke is looking to spend less than $3 million on MacArthur, he may be out of luck. Blues forward Alex Steen makes $3.36 million a year, and earned that contract with a 15-goal, 42-point outing in ’07-08. Williams was signed to a four-year, $14.6 million contract just days ago, with 20 goals and 49 points through the first two-thirds of this season, although he is undoubtedly a more proven performer than MacArthur, with more than a few years of serviceable NHL scoring under his belt.

Columbus center RJ Umberger scored 50 points in 2007-08, and earned himself a four year deal worth $15 million, while Bruins’ forwards Lucic and Krejci, both younger than MacArthur, earn $4.08 million and $3.75 million a year. Again, Lucic’s salary is a bit higher given his value as a power forward.

The Leafs clearly have some difficult work ahead of them, but considering that they have tons of cap space to play with this summer, I don’t think Burke should be too frugal with MacArthur. Sure, his true worth may not be fully established yet, and may take another season or two to fully ascertain, but when you look at the success he’s created, specifically within the Leafs’ organization this year, it’s tough to argue against him reaching a deal somewhere in the vicinity of $10-15 million over the next 3-4 years.

With MacArthur on the wing, both Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin have enjoyed career years, and while that’s certainly not just the product of MacArthur’s presence, he has played a major role in their development. I did a little digging to see just how effective the Leafs’ top line has been (thanks to DobberHockey for their line production comparison feature), and was actually pleasantly surprised to find that the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin line ranks 2nd in even-strength scoring among all NHL line combinations. With 78 goals produced so far this season, “Mac ‘n the USSR” have contributed more offense than any other line in the league, aside from the top unit in Vancouver featuring Alex Burrows and the Sedin twins. (94 goals)

Such vaunted trios as the Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan combo in Anaheim and even the Stamkos line in Tampa Bay have failed to produce as much offense as these three relative no-namers in Toronto. Even Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom fail to match the MGK line, even when you combine their outputs when mated with Mike Knuble and Alex Semin. Now, I’m not saying that any one of the three Leafs in question is of the same talent level as some of the stars listed above, but as a cohesive functioning unit, they are far and away the most effective piece of the puzzle that the Leafs possess at the moment.

Even if a star caliber center to play with Phil Kessel were to be acquired this summer, the value of such a strong second line is undeniable, and if the Leafs were able to keep two such lines together, the Brian Burke formula of six scorers and six checkers would arguably be complete. How MacArthur performs down the stretch will obviously have a small impact on his contract demands, but the general parameters have probably already been established. Thankfully, the agent MacArthur selected already has a solid working relationship with Burke and the Leafs. Don Meehan currently represents no less than nine other current Leafs, including Colby Armstrong, Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie, Luke Schenn, Darryl Boyce, Tyler Bozak, Tim Brent, Luca Caputi and Phil Kessel. Here’s hoping they can hammer something out before heading to arbitration.

Thanks for reading, and as always you can follow me over at twitter.com/editorinleaf.

Tags: Alex Burrows Alex Ovechkin Alex Semin Alex Steen Bobby Ryan Brian Burke Cap Hit Clarke MacArthur Colby Armstrong Corey Perry Darryl Boyce David Krejci Jussi Jokinen Justin Williams Keith Aulie Luca Caputi Luke Schenn Mike Knuble Mikhail Grabovski Milan Lucic NHL Nicklas Backstrom Nikolai Kulemin Phil Kessel RJ Umberger Ryan Getzlaf Ryane Clowe Tim Brent Toronto Maple Leafs Tyler Bozak

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