TORONTO - Like any NHL general manager with a love for the deal, Brian Burke was going to listen to offers for his leading scorer on Monday, but he wasn’t about to shop him.
With 19 goals and 28 assists, Clarke MacArthur is not only the Leafs’ leading scorer (with one point more than Phil Kessel), but its biggest surprise.
From quiet and unassuming when he arrived here for training camp, he has been a leader in the dressing room and a feisty force on the ice.
From a one-year gamble to fill a much-needed forward spot on the rebuilding Leafs roster, MacArthur has played like a guy who looks like he could be a valuable part of the young team’s future.
But the million-dollar question (or more likely three million per season) is what is MacArthur worth going forward? While there was less urgency than has been suggested to get a deal done prior to Monday’s trade deadline, it has become a hot topic around the team, given the recent surge into playoff contention.
Due to be a restricted free agent this summer, by anyone’s measure MacArthur is certainly worth more than the $1.1 million he has been paid this season and likely more than the $2.4 million arbitration settlement the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from last summer.
But how much more?
“This is a hard value to fix,” Burke said on Monday. “Where a player has had a breakthrough year, what’s he worth? Is he a 70-point player or is he a 40-point player? Is he what he’s been to this point or is this what we’re going to get from here on?
“That’s why there’s been no stone throwing about the two sides about who’s being fair. We acknowledge the player has had an excellent year for us and he’s a good guy. We’re happy he’s here, but is that the real guy? Is that the player you are signing?”
We’re reasonably certain where MacArthur’s new agent, Don Meehan, stands on the issue.
He’ll probably start by pointing at the career years unfolding for his client’s most regular linemates, Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin. Both of those players may have been due to break out, but they have an undeniable chemistry with the new guy.
Meehan will surely add the refrain aired by MacArthur himself during the year: That the player is finally getting more of a chance to show what he can do than he did at previous stops in his career.
The Leafs will argue, as they did with Dominic Moore a couple of seasons back, that sometimes a player’s worth is artificially escalated because of the opportunities available on a poor team. It would appear that MacArthur has more upside than Moore, however, especially given his play alongside his Russian-speaking linemates.
The immediate bottom line, however, is that as much as Meehan and MacArthur would like to get a deal done, there’s no immediate urgency to do so from the Leafs perspective.
The worst case would see MacArthur become a restricted free agent on July 1. If the case goes to arbitration, that won’t rattle Burke, either. Even if an arbitrator settles on a significantly higher number than last summer, the Leafs can walk away as Atlanta did or rationalize signing him for one year when they average in this season’s bargain-basement deal.
In the meantime, the talks are anything but dead. Burke said that Claude Loiselle, who handles player negotiations, met with Meehan on Monday and those talks will continue. While the Leafs would have traded MacArthur if an offer blew them away, his contract status had little to do with his trade status.
“This is a valuable player who has played well for us and is a good guy,” Burke said. “We are prepared to continue to try to sign him and if it goes to arbitration this summer, we are prepared for that too.
“We did not offer Clarke to teams, we did get offers on him. We had an internal price that wasn’t met and we’re very happy that he’s still here.”