For the Ottawa Senators, training camp should have brought excitement and the opportunity to prove last season’s post-season success — a lengthy run which saw the Senators come one goal shy of the Stanley Cup final — was no fluke.
Instead, the big news out of Canada’s capital Thursday is nothing but heartbreaking, as it was revealed that Clarke MacArthur has failed his medical, according to TSN’s Steve Lloyd.
The specifics of MacArthur’s failed exam weren’t provided, but that the 32-year-old will be unable to participate in training camp is extremely disappointing and the obvious concern has to be that failing the medical is connected in any way to MacArthur’s lengthy concussion history.
As has been well documented, MacArthur has battled head injuries over the past several seasons, more specifically since the start of the 2015-16 season. After seeing his 2014-15 campaign end due to a concussion, MacArthur made his way back to the Senators lineup to start the following campaign, but before the season was even a few weeks old, MacArthur had suffered another two concussions and was sidelined indefinitely. The head injuries took their toll on MacArthur, leading the veteran winger to question whether he would ever play again, and that’s what made his return to training camp ahead of the 2016-17 season such a bright spot of Senators’ camp.
However, only a few days into Ottawa’s training camp last season, MacArthur was crunched into the boards by defenseman Patrick Sieloff during a team scrimmage. The hit left MacArthur visibly shaken and he had to be helped off the ice. Later, it was announced that MacArthur had returned home and would be taking his time to come back, which was followed by MacArthur’s own announcement on Instagram that he was “encouraged by how my body has reacted in the days since the injury.” The hope, he said, was that he would return at some point during the 2016-17 campaign.
By mid-season, that seemed as though it would be impossible, and even more so when, in late-January, Senators GM Pierre Dorion stated that MacArthur’s season was over due to a concussion for the second-straight year. At the time, Dorion told TSN’s Dean Brown that MacArthur had seen a number of specialists and was not cleared to return.
That didn’t stop MacArthur from attempting a comeback, though, and he was back skating with the team in March as rumblings grew that he would be attempting a return. That return came on April 4 against the Detroit Red Wings, when MacArthur suited up and skated 9:44 in his first game since Oct. 14, 2015. MacArthur went on to play in the Senators’ final four regular season games before joining the team for the post-season run, where he would score three goals and nine points in 19 games, including the series-winning goal against the Boston Bruins in the first round.
“You’re always happy for the team’s success,” Dorion told TSN’s Bob McKenzie in a recent interview. “But when (Clarke) scored that goal [against Boston] — whether you believe in destiny or not, I thought it was someone’s will to say, ‘This guy’s worked so hard.’ ”
Playoff performance or not, though, Dorion made it clear to McKenzie that MacArthur wouldn’t simply be given the green light for camp this year without the OK from doctors.
“We’re always going to follow the doctor’s advice,” Dorion told McKenzie. “They’re the ones who cleared him to play. We know how had he worked to come back, but at the same time, they’re going to be the ones that are going to clear him to play…He’s skated through the summer, from what I know, so we’ll have to just wait and see once he shows up to camp to make sure that everything’s all right.”
Sadly, it’s all too evident now that everything isn’t. So, the question becomes what’s next for MacArthur?
Last season, when it appeared his season was through, MacArthur did tell the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch that there was an attempt at retirement. MacArthur said he went to Florida, took a week off, but by the second week he was in the gym and was trying to get in game shape shortly thereafter. But there’s also reason to believe that after the failed medical, MacArthur might give retirement more than a one-week shot.
For the Senators, MacArthur’s retirement would undoubtedly result in placing the winger on long-term injured reserve as he’s square in the middle of a five-year, $23.25-million contract, under which he’s sadly only been able to play eight regular season games. It would also leave the Senators without a heart-and-soul type winger, one who could play up and down the lineup when healthy and contribute offensively and defensively. That’s a sizeable hole to fill and one Ottawa is likely going to be unable to on short notice.
That said, with MacArthur sidelined once again, the Senators’ potential lineup falls incredibly low on the list of concerns. And when it comes to the next step, MacArthur is the only one who can really know.
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