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MacArthur The Elite Scorer?

Reflect back to the start of last season.  Think back to when Clarke MacArthur first showed up in Leaf land, fresh from signing a one year, $1.1 million dollar contract that was a $300 K reduction from his previous contract.  

MacArthur had gone to arbitration as an RFA with the Atlanta Thrashers, having just finished a 2009-10 NHL campaign that saw him post 16 goals and 35 points in 81 games. He went in with the mindset that if he and his agent expected the arbitrator to come up with a reasonable number, he'd have to high ball the team, who would then low ball them back, and end up somewhere in the middle.  Unfortunately the gamble didn't work - at least not exactly.  The Thrashers (and current Leafs Director of Player Personnel Rick Dudley - then Thrashers GM) walked away from MacArthur's arbitration without tabling an offer, making the young winger an unrestricted free agent.

MacArthur's time in Atlanta was far from spectacular.  He only posted 3 goals and 9 points in 21 games, despite seeing an increase in ice time to an average of 15:37 per night.  His shots per game dipped after the trade as he struggled to find his footing, and as he has said many times to the press, if he's not shooting he's not playing his game.  You can hardly blame Atlanta for not bothering to pick up the tab.

Fast forward to last season, mid year. MacArthur has somehow become a key component of a line that features to ex-Soviet players in centre Mikhail Grabovski of Belarus and winger Nikolai Kulemin.  The two Europeans are noted for their work ethic, attention to detail, and they often seem to play as if they share a brain.  In reality they welcomed Clarke into the fold, and made every effort to mesh with him.  The trio speak only English on the ice together, and all three play their way to career years in 2010-11.  Frankly they turned out to be the Leafs top line last season.

MacArthur was considered by many to be the lucky benefactor of providence in landing with the break out duo.  He rode their coat-tails it was said, to producing a 21 goal 62 point season.  Never mind the fact that of the three players he had the highest point total. Let's ignore the fact that he had the most NHL games played of the three, or the fact that his career 14.47% shooting percentage was the best of the group to boot or his 44 career goals (Grabovski had 33, Kulemin 31, entering last season).

Let's ignore all of that for a second because reality is Grabovski and Kulemin had 59 of the line's 80 goals... of course, we might want to remember that MacArthur had 30 first assists last year.

Of MacArthur's 62 points in 2010-11, 51 of them were either goals or first assists (82.2%).  For Grabovski the total was 48 of his 58 points (82.7%), and for Kulemin it was 39 of his 57 points (68%).  From the looks of those numbers, I'd say it makes more sense to argue that Kulemin was the passenger offensively rather than MacArthur, although I wouldn't argue that because of how industrious and effective Kulemin is defensively and along the boards.

So at this stage, I think it's fair to say MacArthur was relatively important to the production of the MGK line last year.  I personally think he deserved the two year $3.25 mill contract he signed in the off-season, and so far this year his numbers are again backing that up.  After his most recent goal, MacArthur now has 9 goals on 27 shots for 33.3% shooting.  Obviously that won't continue all season, but it's pretty amazing production frankly.  Should we expect that kind of production with regularity out of him these days? Most would say no, and I'd agree if MacArthur continues to only see 14:34 in average ice time, but this is where I would preach caution.

MacArthur is one of five Leaf regulars who is currently over 2.10 points per 60 minutes at 5v5 play.  A couple of seasons ago, Tom Awad wrote a lengthy series of pieces that used 2.10 pts/60 as a benchmark for a top line forward.  Right now MacArthur is sitting at 2.43 pts/60, and he's producing WITHOUT Mikhail Grabovski or Nikolai Kulemin riding shot gun.  He's got Tim Connolly (another player he's familiar with via his time in Buffalo) to help him, and that seems to be working just fine.  A pass first center could do wonders for his goal totals, but there's more to it than that.

Clarke MacArthur is an excellent shooter.  Not good, not just above average, excellent.  How can I say that? Well, read this list of names and think to yourself on whether or not you'd call them all "excellent" shooters:

Player G SA Act SH% Exp SH% Delta
I. Kovalchuk 150 1509 9.9 5.7 4.2
S. Stamkos 111 1036 10.7 7.2 3.5
A. Semin 124 1268 9.8 7.1 2.7
D. Alfredsson 86 883 9.7 7.1 2.7
S. Crosby 135 1135 11.9 9.4 2.5
A. Burrows 92 870 10.6 8.2 2.4
C. Stewart 61 598 10.2 8.0 2.2
M. Hejduk 94 897 10.5 8.3 2.2
B. Ryan 100 989 10.1 8.0 2.1
J. Iginla 147 1561 9.4 7.3 2.1
M. Gaborik 110 1047 10.5 8.4 2.1
A. Tanguay 59 559 10.6 8.5 2.0
N. Horton 89 944 9.4 7.5 2.0
P. Sharp 114 1202 9.5 7.5 2.0
P. Datsyuk 109 1131 9.6 7.6 2.0
D. Briere 94 816 11.5 9.7 1.8

So now that we've read through that list, and generally I think we can agree that all of those players are very skilled scorers, what the heck does it mean?  Those were 16 of the top 18 shooters in the NHL from 2007 through 2011 (last season), who directed 500 or more shot attempts at the goal (on net or missed). The Expected Shooting Percentage is weighted based on distance from the net when the shot is taken, closer in shots have a higher expected shooting percentage. The Delta value is the difference between their actual shooting percentage and their expected.

The other two players from the 18 that I didn't include were recently waived (and now Calgary Flame) Blake Comeau, and Clarke MacArthur.  I left them off for a few reasons though.  Comeau's expected shooting percentage from 2007 to 2011 was 6.9% (the only forward on the list under 7.0% aside from Kovalchuk - who is frankly insane), which to me indicates his shot selection isn't particularly solid.  MacArthur on the other hand sits firmly in 7th place on the list, with an ACT SH% of  10.3% and an EXP SH% of 8.1%, giving him a Delta value of +2.2.  

Secondarily, the issue with Comeau, MacArthur, and to an extent Chris Stewart is that all three players are fairly young and we're looking at a sample on the smaller end if we're assessing shooting talent (under 600 shots).  That being said, so far this year Comeau's numbers have nosedived.  He has 34 shot attempts (on net or missed) and has yet to score a goal. That has done nothing to help his numbers, giving him an ACT SH% of 8.5% and a Delta value of +1.6, dropping him off the list.

Similarly, Stewart has 3 goals on 63 attempts so far this year, giving him an actual SH% of 4.8% on the season approximately, and dropping his ACT SH% to 9.7%, and (assuming his EXP SH% is unchanged) his Delta would become +1.7, in essence dropping him from the list also.

MacArthur on the other hand hasn't regressed so far this year.  In only 18 games, MacArthur has already scored 9 goals on the year on 32 attempts in the direction of the net.  That gives him a seasonal value of 28.1% and actually boosts his ACT SH% to 11.2% and raising his Delta (assuming his EXP SH% hasn't shifted drastically) to +3.1.  Even more impressive? His ACT SH% rises from 20th in the NHL at 10.3% to 6th - in the same realm as Andrew Brunette, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Daniel Briere, Tomas Holmstrom, and Thomas Vanek

So let that sink in for a second everyone.  We currently have arguably the 3rd best shooter in the NHL playing for our team in terms of ability to outperform expected shooting percentage, or alternatively the 6th best shooter in terms of actual shooting percentage.  Clarke MacArthur is more than adequately indicating that his offensive game deserves far more respect than it has received so far, both in Leaf land, and around the NHL.

Maybe signing him to that $1.1 million dollar contract two years ago works out to the canniest move Brian Burke has made as GM of the Leafs.  Time will tell, but until then, we'll let you be the judge.