Arbitration hearings aren't the most pleasant way to start off a day in the morning. Contract disputes are imminent every summer and more often than not, both parties will nod, shake hands and be pleased with the eventual outcome. But not everyone gets what they yearn for.
Clarke MacArthur's recent arbitration hearing is possibly the best and worst fate mixed together for him. The restricted free agent was awarded a $2.4 million agreement by an arbitrator, but the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from it, thus making him an unrestricted free agent. Listening to a person state that he's worth over $2 million is music to the ears. The issues are his cost coming on the high end for an inconsistent forward and the names of other players who are anxiously waiting by the phone for an offer with him - players who can outproduce MacArthur.
Lee Stempniak, owner of a 28-goal campaign and a delightful scoring record following a trade from Toronto to Phoenix, is available. Rediscovered speedster Maxim Afinogenov expects a raise from the $800, 000 he earned last year and 61 points places him in terrific shape. Veterans Paul Kariya and Bill Guerin can continuously deposit 20 goals while serving as mentors for younger teammates. Free agents are supposed to offer useful intangibles; MacArthur doesn't exactly stand out with a distinctive feature.
Unpredictable wingers - the ones that alternate hot and cold streaks without forewarning - are a dime a dozen. It's a shame for the former Buffalo winger that his dry spells make the good sequences seem tiny in comparison. Getting a read on MacArthur is easier at a poker table than it is on the ice because his numbers after four seasons and 208 matches played are puzzling.
The plus-minus is going backwards and the production is somewhat improving, but these aren't the qualifications for a $2.4 million salary. And if MacArthur expects to casually compete on certain nights, he'd better start showing extra talents because he simply isn't gifted enough to be lackluster. Evgeny Artyukhin was acquired by Atlanta at the trade deadline, flying in from Anaheim. The Russian got seven less minutes of ice time than MacArthur on average with the Thrashers and played in four less contests, but it didn't stop him from scoring more goals. That's Evgeny Artyukhin, not Evgeni Malkin.
When Nikolai Zherdev fled the scene to Russia after the New York Rangers opted to disapprove the $3.9 million his arbitrator presented him, it was a rarity. Returning to the NHL, he's agreed to a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers that will pay him $2 million. Zherdev is an electrifying player on his good days and easily capable of scoring 30 goals or 70 points; MacArthur hasn't reached 20 goals or 40 points in a season. Salary cap room is at a minimum for the majority of teams and every dollar counts. MacArthur has someone close by that he can relate to - a teammate whom he played with on two separate clubs - and his nickname is Baby Bure.
Afinogenov expelled his personal demons with the Thrashers and did it for the bare minimum price. After falling out in Buffalo, the speed merchant was out to prove himself and earn the trust for a larger contract. In essence, there's no guarantee he will be attained to a long-term deal, but Afinogenov showed he still has the energy and flair. Reviewing Zherdev's status, he'll be hoping for the same re-birth in Philadelphia. If Afinogenov and Zherdev are accepting pay cuts, so too must MacArthur in order to possibly fish out a suitor.
You have to hand it to general manager Darcy Regier for dealing him to Atlanta for a third and fourth round pick. Hitting a dead end with an organization is common. It happened to Ales Kotalik and Daniel Paille in Buffalo. In the case of MacArthur, he didn't have a reputable one-timer like Kotalik or back-checking discipline like Paille. MacArthur doesn't have a defining edge or talent that coaches crave; he's a spare part and nobody wants to spend too much on those products.
At best, MacArthur is a third line player and he has to find himself an area to excel in because there's no space for passengers on a hockey club. That won't occur overnight and for the time being, he has to ask himself if a general manager will really meet his $2.4 million salary with the current supply of free agents in the air.
There are no hand-outs in this day and age. The sooner MacArthur comes to terms with that, the better off he will be.