As the inherently 90s frontman Dan Wilson once said: “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
I’m guessing Drew Stafford isn’t a big fan of SemiSonic, but Clarke MacArthur must be loving “Closing Time” these days. The 2009-10 hockey season has been kind to Clarke so far. Just eight games in he is tied for the team lead in goals, with four apiece between he and Thomas Vanek. With six points he is also tied for second in points with Tim Connolly. Clarke has simply been playing better: he’s working harder, getting more ice time, and the results have registered on the scoreboard for sure. We’ve heard about all the work he put in this summer, and so far the offseason regimen looks like time well spent.
Tyler Myers has been the story of the season, but with Dan Paille’s departure last week, Clarke MacArthur immediately became story number two.
I still feel the idea of Darcy making an in-season trade not at the deadline is a huge deal, but the more I think about the move the more it reminds me of an off-season from a few summers ago. More specifically, the offseason where Darcy Regier walked away from J.P. Dumont’s arbitration ruling in 2006.
Chris has a much larger theory about that summer, but the basic summary is this: Darcy picked Ales Kotalik over J.P. Dumont, a move that in hindsight looks to many like a mistake. To be fair, Kotalik wasn’t a complete bust. In fact his numbers are slightly better than J.P’s in Nashville, but for the money he made a lot of people were disappointed by his performance.
Let’s be honest: Ales was sketchy. Where J.P. Dumont may be soft, Kotalik was wont to drop off the face of the earth for days at a time. There were literally games where I forgot he was in or out of the lineup, I was just so used to him coasting that it didn’t phase me at all.
We could (and probably should at some point) talk about this for hours, but what most people end up saying is that there is no question the Sabres would have been a better team with J.P. Dumont on the roster rather than Ales Kotalik. There is nothing wrong with Kotalik as a player, in fact he’s doing great in New York this season; but Dumont feels more important, like he had (and would have continued to have) more value to the Sabres.
So how does last week relate to all this? Well, the reason we pit Dumont and Kotalik against each other is based purely on their contract status. They both needed to be signed at the time, and the team had to make a decision on the two. There were plenty of roster decisions to make back in 2006, but these two players seem to match up more and more as time passes.
(One could argue that Tim Connolly could be thrown into this argument as well, but I don’t think there was ever any doubt that Connolly would be signed. Both Kotalik and Dumont, while philosophically different, brought a similar level of production and could fill the same scoring role. Connolly at the time represented a completely different level of potential, and I think both fans and management realized that. Therein lies the pairing. Same thing with Kennedy this time around. Different potential, different decision.)
To understand what happened last week doesn’t require the benefit of hindsight: Darcy Regier picked Clarke MacArthur over Dan Paille. This time the distinction makes much more sense, despite our collective inability to place just where the tipping point in preference occurred.
Both Paille and MacArthur are RFAs after the 09-10 season, and with similar cap hits (Paille at $1.35 million, MacArthur at $1.4 million) they were in effect competing for the next breakout contract. Two mid-range scoring threats enter, but only one shall leave.
Still, the most interesting thing about this decision is how early it was made. I feel people view moving a relatively unproductive Dan Paille as a minor transaction, but it really does set so much in motion. It means expectations are high for Clarke MacArthur, and even gives the younger players on the roster a chance to make an impression. Remember, Sabres fans, Tim Kennedy is an RFA this summer. Already.
With the 2009-10 season still so young it’s hard to think about July, but the Sabres only have seven forwards under contract once the summer hits. Add in the potential turnover of Lydman and Tallinder on the blueline and you’re looking at an extremely active summer for the Sabres. If anything, this is why Darcy making moves right now is so important.
Making the playoffs is priority #1, but that can’t be the only focus the front office has. A proactive Darcy is a Darcy that keeps his job much longer than this season, and I think Regier understands that better than anyone.
The more I think about it, trading away Paille is as much an opportunity for Clarke as it is for Darcy. If MacArthur comes through with a big season, the decision is justified and the subsequent contract will never be questioned. The hindsight isn’t necessary because there’s nothing to consider: Darcy made his move just six games into the season, not in the restricted free agent market.
There’s a long way to go, but opportunity awaits for Clarke and Darcy alike. They better get in the car before the park closes.