July 21, 2011
MacArthur: 'I knew I could score'
By Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
Despite the summer heat, Clarke MacArthur shudders at the thought of what could have been.
When the Maple Leafs forward signed a two-year pact worth $6.5 million US a couple of weeks ago, he avoided salary arbitration, where National Hockey League teams try to convince someone the player sitting across from them is not as good as he thinks.
“Going to arbitration, it’s just a bad deal all together,” MacArthur said during a telephone interview on Thursday. “Teams have to downplay you. I know you have to have that in the system, but it’s just something you don’t want to have to go through.”
MacArthur speaks from experience. A year ago, the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from an arbitrator’s ruling that gave MacArthur a $2.4 million deal, a calculated move on the part of the Thrashers that made MacArthur an unrestricted free agent.
MacArthur’s nerves were getting frayed by the day until the Leafs signed him last Aug. 28 to a one-year, $1.1-million contract, just a couple of weeks before training camp opened. The Thrashers general manager at the time was Rick Dudley, who since has joined the Leafs’ front office.
The 26-year-old MacArthur didn’t hold a grudge against Dudley.
“Not at all,” MacArthur said. “I should be thankful to him, because signing with the Leafs was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Avoiding an arbitration hearing is something teams try to accomplish, for the most part, as well. When the New York Rangers signed forward Brandon Dubinsky to a four-year, $16.8-million pact on Thursday morning, the sides cancelled an arbitration hearing that was to be held later in the day. There had been six arbitration hearings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, but none of them occurred, as the player signed a contract before going behind closed doors.
Just seven potential arbitration hearings are left, with Nashville Predators defenceman Shea Weber (Aug. 2) and New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise (Aug. 3) drawing the most attention. But those, and the five others, might not actually happen if the signing trend continues.
MacArthur felt relief when he signed his contract, which will pay him $3.25 million in each of the seasons, and not just because of the hefty raise.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to avoid it,” MacArthur said of arbitration. “It was good that we got it done and good that the Leafs wanted to get it done.”
Now, of course, the expectations for MacArthur in 2011-12 and beyond will take on a different tone, but he doesn’t have a problem with that. He recorded personal NHL career highs in every offensive category in his first season with the Leafs, and his 62 points (21 goals and 41 assists) were second in team scoring, behind the 64 points put up by Phil Kessel.
“I take pride in what I do, and I’ve put a little bit more pressure on myself,” MacArthur said. “I’ve heard people say that 60 points was a home run for me (his previous best was 35 points, in 2009-10 with the Thrashers and Buffalo Sabres), and I have heard others say that I can do better.”
MacArthur agreed with the idea that some of the signings when free agency opened on July 1 gave him leverage in negotiations with Leafs general manager Brian Burke.
“The market helped me with some of the ridiculous contracts that were handed out,” MacArthur said. “But I’m not sure if that influenced Toronto or not.”
We don’t expect MacArthur to make another big jump where points are concerned, but 70 would not be out of the question. Playing on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, MacArthur’s average ice time a game increased to 17 minutes six seconds. Before he was a Leaf, he averaged 13 minutes 51 seconds a game.
“I knew I could make plays and score goals, so it was a matter of getting more ice and then confidence,” MacArthur said. “(Coach Ron) Wilson gave that to me.”
At 5-foot-11 and 191 pounds, MacArthur said he wants to arrive at training camp in September bigger and stronger. After several months of off-ice training, he’s going to start skating next week in Rochester, where he makes his off-season home, with fellow NHLers Brian Gionta and Ryan Callahan. In August, he will spend a week at a conditioning/boot hockey camp in Minnesota before returning to Toronto.
It’s the little things that MacArthur wants to see an improvement in.
“Back-checking, picking up guys, things like that,” MacArthur said. “Stronger in our own end. Grabo and Kuly had good plus-minus numbers (plus-14 and plus-7, respectively), and I was always floating around zero (finishing at minus-3).
“(But) everything was great about last season except for missing the playoffs.”
There’s stuff you can’t make up, and Tomas Kaberle’s day with the Stanley Cup falls into that category. Kaberle, who couldn’t win the Cup in more than a decade in Toronto but did so after just a few months as a Boston Bruin, got the Cup on Wednesday and took it to his hometown of Kladno, Czech Republic. The festivities included being greeted by a 20-motorcycle motorcade, a band called The Hello Piggy Band, and a gift of a sword and shield for Kaberle ... It’s hard to believe, but the Leafs still owe Darcy Tucker, whose contract was bought out in 2008, $1 million in each of the next three seasons. By the time Tucker finishes receiving cheques from the Leafs, he will have been retired from the NHL for four years.