Neuvirth, his new contract, and the Expansion Draft

Lets get this straight: I don’t much like the way that the Neuvirth signing was handled.

To be clear, it’s not so much the contract itself I’m upset about – Neuvirth is an above average backup and now he’ll being paid like one – but when it was done and why. Both Flyers goalies are having terrible years, so I’m looking at the bigger picture rather than just their respective records this season when saying that.

Neuvirth’s contract extension and initial concerns

My alarm bells started ringing for several reasons as rumors about what became a two-year, $2.5m annual cap hit, contract extension began to circulate. I believe Stolarz will be backup next season since Hextall has previously indicated he was keen to protect Stolarz and would be happy to sign someone in order to allow him to do that (as is required by expansion rules).

Neuvirth doesn’t have the durability to consistently play throughout a season – he played 48 in 2010-11 and other than that has managed only one other season (11-12) where he managed more than 35. Of course, Neuvirth was backup for most of that time, or at least a ‘1B’, but we know he’s also injury prone. He is listed as having 13 separate injuries / illnesses since the 13-14 season – Reimer and Griess, two netminders who I’d say are similar in age and career trajectory, have 4 and 2 respectively. Considering the cautious approach Hextall takes with rookies and prospects, I find it unlikely that he thinks Stolarz should be playing 50% or more of next season’s games.

It just doesn’t quite add up to me, and got me thinking about what players to expose (or indeed ‘sacrifice’) in the Expansion Draft. While this is all hypothetical, it still warrants investigation.

Vegas and the Expansion Draft

We know that Vegas must pick at least 3 goalies in the 30 players – one player drafted from each franchise – they have to select. It’s worth noting that Vegas will have a two-day period prior to the Expansion Draft to negotiate and sign any Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) not protected from the draft by their franchise. If Vegas sign one of these UFA’s they will not get to pick another player from that franchise. While they could potentially get some big names in early I don’t really see much reason for those player to sign before the regular July 1st free agency period when the player would have much more choice (and could still sign for Vegas anyway). Additionally, 20 of the 30 players they select must also be signed for next season, so they can’t draft a team entirely of expiring Restricted Free Agents (RFA’s) for example.

Also, Vegas has to draft between $43.8m and $73m in salary cap (using this season’s player cap hits). This equates to just $2.43m per player drafted to reach the $73m ceiling. That’s not a lot of cap hit per player per draft selection. Obviously they can take a player on $4m, but it means to balance out they’d need another player on $860k. This is one reason why MacDonald’s $5m cap hit is prohibitive for Vegas, as it uses up more that two lots of ‘average cap allocation’ (ACA) – and, you know, he’s not worth it.

This means Vegas isn’t going to draft a team of $4m+ players. As an example: if they draft 7 players (1G, 3D, 3F) on $4m they’d have to draft the remaining 23 players on less than $1.96m each. You can see if they go bigger (who knows maybe Evander Kane or Bobby Ryan are available) then they have to cut back quite hard elsewhere. It’s fair assume they will draft some players on $4m+ as there will undoubtedly be some talented players available – probably on defense as several teams have some tough protection slot choices to be made (Minnesota and Anaheim, for example).

Drafting Goalies in the Expansion

So how does this all effect Vegas’ goalie search? Well, below is a list of goalies that are either signed for next season or expired RFA’s. I’ve removed the players I think are obvious protection choices for their teams (and noted a few that I’m unsure about) and I’ve protected Stolarz for the Flyers. I realize that things will change a lot but this is what we have for now. Players with an ‘(r)’ are expiring RFA’s. The list contains no UFA’s because there’s no real point in Vegas selecting them by this point. (List compiled from the information at Cap Friendly)

  • Ana: Tokarski
  • Ari: Domingue (I presume Mike Smith is protected but I could be wrong)
  • Bos: Khudobin, M.Subban (r)
  • Buf: Ullmark (r), (protected Lehner)
  • Cgy: McCollum (Elliott and Johnson both UFA’s so I presume they sign and protect one if they don’t make a trade)
  • Car: Ward, Altshuller (r) (I presume Lack gets protected but he and Ward are basically interchangeable)
  • Chi: Glass
  • Col: Varlamov (protected Pickard)
  • Cls: Dansk (r), Korpisalo (r), Forsberg (r)
  • Dal: Lehtonen / Niemi, Kiviaho (r), Lagace (r) (probably one of Lehtonen or Niemi is protected but I’m sure Dallas would like both gone)
  • Det: Howard, Coreau (r)
  • Edm: Brossoit
  • Fla: Luongo / Reimer (again I presume one is protected but don’t know who)
  • LAK: Zatkoff, Campbell
  • Min: Stalock
  • Mtl: Montoya
  • Nas: Mazanec (r)
  • NJD: Wedgewood (r)
  • NYI: Halak, Berube (r), Gibson (r)
  • NYR: Raanta, Skapski (r)
  • Ott: Hammond, Driedger (r)
  • Phi: Neuvirth
  • Pit: ??? (There is no way that they don’t protect Murray but I also don’t think Fleury waives his No Movement Clause for the draft, he doesn’t want to go to Vegas nor should he. He’ll either waive it to be traded somewhere he’s happy to go to or get bought out – the Pens need to acquire any other goalie on this list to expose though. I don’t think that’s hard)
  • SJ: Dell
  • StL: Hutton, Binnington (r)
  • TBL: Gudlevskis
  • Tor: Bibeau (r), Sparks (r)
  • Van: Bachman
  • Was: Grubauer (r)
  • Wpg: Hutchinson

As you can see, it’s not really a who’s who of goaltenders. Varlamov, Howard, Halak, Raanta, Luongo / Reimer, Ward, Grubauer, and Neuvirth are about as good as it gets. Let’s say that of the three goalies Vegas picks one will be more of an AHL level prospect they can send to the farm to hopefully develop into something better down the line. It doesn’t make sense to take three NHL full time goalies and then have to waiver / trade one away before the season starts (and it would eat more of that ACA that could be used elsewhere). So, we’re looking to draft two NHL goalies from this list. Reimer, Raanta, Ward, Grubauer, and Neuvirth are the ones on under $4m, in fact only Raanta makes less than Neuvirth next season (Grubauer isn’t signed for next season but is an RFA). I’d also argue that all that none of them should be considered bona fide starters but all are still decent backups, ‘1B’ goaltenders, or simply haven’t had a shot at being a starter yet.

So Vegas could look at Varlamov, Halak, Howard and Luongo / Reimer as the ‘starter’ and then either Raanta or Neuvirth as the backup or ‘1B’. I think there are a few decent tandems there and while Raanta is on less money and has played much better than Neuvirth (albeit on better teams) there are other considerations. Primarily that only one player per team can be taken. The Rangers will have to leave one forward unprotected from: Nash (were he to waive his NMC which is unlikely), Stepan, Kreider, Zuccarello, Miller, Zibanejad, Hayes, and Grabner, all of whom are at least at a 0.6 point per game pace (or 49 points through 82 games). Additionally they will likely have to leave defenseman Nick Holden unprotected, who has 28 points in 63 games so far. I am fairly comfortable saying I’d take any of those players over what we are likely to have on offer: Read, Weise, Raffl, Laughton, Bellemare, Leier, or MacDonald (Cousins takes my last protection slot for the forwards). Read leads that list of player in points per game with a whopping 0.27. I hope you can see my argument here, I’m not selecting Raanta over several other solid Rangers options when the Flyers have a bunch of mediocre and worse options on the table. Thus, Neuvirth isn’t a poor selection choice. The same issue applies with Grubauer in Washington.

They could, for example, end up with Halak, Neuvirth, and a decent prospect (Ullmark, Korpisalo, Forsberg, Coreau, etc.) for only around 500k more than the ACA of 3 players. I don’t think that’s a terrible NHL tandem and prospect to acquire for free.

Neuvirth will also be 29 entering next season and signed for two years, which would give Vegas a little more flexibility while not breaking the bank. It’s additionally worth noting that Neuvirth worked with, and was drafted by, Vegas GM George McPhee back when he was the Capitals GM. It might not mean much but it’s worth consideration (thanks to BSH Radio for that bit of information).

If Neuvirth was selected by Vegas where would it leave the Flyers?

Though Stolarz would have been protected we’d still need a starting goalie and, by my estimations, we’d have somewhere between 4 and 6 million dollars in cap space. Term is the real issue, with the Flyers ideally needing a player on a two or three year deal. Budaj, Mason, Miller, Condon, Elliott, Darling, Bernier, and Nilsson are just a selection of guys who will be UFA’s and probably around that price range for the term. Although it might feel more remote right now it could also leave the door open for Mason, the club would have 10 days after the Expansion Draft to work out a new deal before the free agency period begins. Failing that, as there won’t be that many starting jobs up for grabs in the NHL next season I’d imagine that one of the others could be signed on a decent deal. Chad Johnson and Scott Darling are probably the standouts though I’d suspect Johnson gets re-signed unless Calgary trade for / sign another netminder (Fleury, Bishop?). Either way I’d feel more comfortable with one of those guys splitting the net with Stolarz than with Neuvirth next season.

Obviously we can’t accurately predict what Vegas will do and the behind the scenes deals that are going to be (or have already been) done. But I don’t think it’s beyond belief that Vegas might have interest in Neuvirth and that the Flyers are working from there. Of course it could also be entirely the opposite and Hextall and Co. really do think Neuvirth can play 50+ games next season, or that Stolarz is capable of playing 40+ games. Or maybe they don’t think Stolarz is going to be NHL ready and will sign another goalie to keep the ‘1A’-‘1B’ idea going. None of those arguments seem to sit quite right with what Hextall has recently said, his manta of patience, and the general direction he has taken the team though. In the end we don’t know but I hope this has also showed the complexity of the decision making progress Vegas will be going through while also highlighting that Hextall has done quite a good job at having very little of significance on offer for Vegas.

How it will turn out, time, as ever, will tell.

*Photo by: Matt Slocum


The $16 million dollar question: The 2019 Off-Season

A while ago Michael Taylor wrote a nice little piece about how much the Flyers could have to spend this off-season and where it could go. Perhaps a sniper for Giroux’s wing, Ben Bishop in net, or a stud defenceman (I’m looking at you Shattenkirk). However, while there certainly will be money available this off-season I’m going to try and make the case as to why I don’t expect any major deals and, in fact, why Hextall might just bank a lot of it.

In the 2018/19 post-season, the Flyers will need to have given new contracts to Wayne Simmonds who’ll be an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA), while both Provorov and Konecny will be at the end of their entry contracts but will still be Restricted Free Agents (RFA). These signings won’t be cheap and while starting to put numbers on these deals is a bit like throwing a dart blindfolded and trying to hit a bullseye, I do like a challenge. And an absurd simile.

Where to Begin?

The salary cap ceiling is as good a place as any. Guessing how the cap will change is a tough thing to gauge. Partly because so little information about how much Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) there actually is, and partly because of the complexity of the calculations that derive from that figure. If the leagues’ income projections for next season were identical to this year the cap would actually fall. This is due to that income ultimately being divided between an extra club as the Las Vegas Knights (I’m still sticking to calling them that) join the league.

However, the players can also choose to raise the cap by up to 5% via a mechanism called the Players Cap Escalator. This raised the cap from $71.4 to $73 million for the current 2016-2017 season. However it’s becoming a controversial issue amongst the player’s union (NHLPA) for a number of reasons I’ll not go into here (but you can read here if you’d like) but has yet to not be invoked at least partially.

The base figure the NHL reported as its HRR for the past year is approximately $4 billion, similar to the previous year (which resulted in the $71.4m cap figure before the players raised it). It’s hard to get an exact read on the next projected HRR and then derive a cap ceiling value from their but there are several things to consider. First, the Canadian Dollar has recovered a little from its most debilitating January 2016 low point compared to the US dollar, nowhere near it’s high but not an insignificant amount either. Also, advertising revenues have reported to be growing, there is the new Adidas uniform deal, and Vegas – whatever you may think of a new team – will be adding some revenue to the pot.

Additionally it has already been reported that Bettman gave a very vague cap figure of between a zero and two million dollar cap raise. Not a lot but it fits with this projection that HHR is rising but also has to be divided by more teams. Even with no raise in the cap from HHR the players could then choose to use their Cap Escalator. It’s also worth noting the NHL has ambitions to raise HHR to $4.5 billion over the coming few season. For this reason I’m going to use a figure of $1.6 million increase each year, as it was previously. I think this is probably conservative but with such little definitive data available it’s better be cautious considering the players may not use their ability to escalate the cap in the near future, and the somewhat fickle nature of currency fluctuations. Anyway, this gives us a cap ceiling of $77.8 million for the 2019-20 season. Phew.

The Roster:

With an amount of cap to play with we need to build a roster though I’m not trying to do anything outrageous so I’ll largely be working with what we have on the books and in the pipeline.

Still on the books will be forwards Giroux, Voracek, Schenn, Couturier, and Weise. On defence it’s just Gudas, and MacDonald (yup, he’ll be about to enter his final year). That looks like this:


Next we need to add in the players that we think will still be on the books. Obviously this is where things get a little more tricky, however I’ll refer back to Michaels’ blog for some initial numbers which seem reasonable, starting with defense and netminders.

Gostisbehere is going to be re-signed, I’d assume either a two year bridge deal or a long term deal that includes his final 3 years RFA status and 3-5 years of UFA years. The Flyer will almost certainly want the latter as it lowers his overall cap hit. I’ll peg it around $5 million. Mason is also the most likely returning goalie at about $5m and I’d expect a deal of about 3-4 years that would coincided which the development curves of most of our prospect netminders being in or around the NHL. After this it’s even more vague but here goes: Manning (or an equivilant) signs a short two year deal at about $1.5m for the 18-19 season while Morin plays his first full NHL season next season and then gets a $2m multi year bridge deal after. Sanheim is in a similar situation but a year behind and plays his first full NHL season in 18-19 and gets a $3m deal thereafter owing to his greater production. Myers is yet a further year behind and because of Entry Level Contract (ELC) slide rules he’ll actually be in the final year of his entry contract (which should be super cap friendly) for the 19/20 season. As for the backup goalie spot it could be Stolarz, Lyon, Hart, or Sandstrom but in any case I can’t see them on a big deal (or could even still be on an ELC). We’ll be generous and say $1.2m.

So back end looks like this:


Yes, I know that’s seven defensemen and I’ve not factored in Provorov yet, I’ll get to that in a bit but first, the forwards.

Having had their contracts expire before the 19-20 season are: Read, Raffl, Laughton, Cousins, Leier, Lyubimov, Bellemare, VandeVelde and Gordon. Following Hextall’s ‘build from within’ philosophy I’d expect Cousins, Leier, and Lyubimov to be back who I’ll average out at $2 million each between them. I think Read and Laughton will be gone in some combination of the expansion draft, free agency, or trade for a variety of reasons while Raffl may be a victim of the salary cap and the lack of Flyers cap space. In addition, I believe that Lindblom will have played at least one full NHL season, but most probably two, and will have a year left on his ELC. This gives us 9 forwards and adding Konecny and Simmonds later gives 11 in total. The final three spots on the team are, frankly, anyone’s guess but should hopefully be a combination of Entry Level Contracts (Rubtsov, Vorobyov, Case, Laberge, Allison, etc.) or cheap 4th line veterans in the Bellemare, VandeVelde mould. So I’ll go with numbers like this:


This ultimately leaves our cap looking like this:


The $16 million dollar question:

So back to our original problem of re-signing Provorov, Konecny, and Simmonds. I think it’s fair to say that all are likely to need significant raises, Simmonds in particular is on one of the most cap friendly contracts in the league. My guess would be that you’ll need somewhere in the region of $16m ($5.5m for Provorov, $4.5m for Konecny, and $6m for Simmonds). If this is the case then we’re short by just under $3.2m. Remember when I said I’d come back to having 7 defensemen on the books already and that MacDonald has a year left to run? Now is when you buy out his contract. It would add another $3.83m in cap space putting us just over the supposed threshold. We’d have about $600,000 spare. The following season we’d have a cap buyout penalty of almost $2m however and Myers and Lindblom at least would need new deals, but that’s how precarious the cap situation is (ideally Mason comes off the books and a prospect is ready to take over on a lesser deal).


This wasn’t supposed to be a direct expectation of what I think the Flyers should do over the next few seasons, I actually think there’s a good chance both Schenn and a defensive prospect get traded at some point to free up cap and strengthen other areas. I was hoping to show that although we have cap space coming up I’m sure Hextall is looking further down the road rather than spending it all now – the really important decisions are a few years down the line. We can quibble about which numbers should be attributed to which players (and fair enough – that’s part of what being a fan is about) and we can even debate the cap growth but we need to always keep an eye on a few years down the line.

The most productive years in terms of value for contracts is in the RFA years when prices are largely kept lower or equal to player production and skill. The most productive players (in terms of on ice contribution relative to cap cost) tend to be around the $4-5m mark. That makes those ELC and RFA bridge years so important and that’s why it’s so vital to manage your cap space well with an eye on the future. We all know the Flyers prospect pool has come on leaps and bounds since Hextall took charge. With the raft of high-end talent, led by Gostisbehere, Provorov, and Konecny, working it’s way up club the Flyers should be well placed to get the maximum upside from a number of Entry Level Contacts and bridge years, which, ultimately, is when you win Cups.

*All contract information obtained from CapFriendly

Who d’ Man(ning)?! – Can Manning’s form last and what could we expect from him?

Taking the Long Road

Back in the tail end of the 2014-15 season, the Flyers defensive core was hit by a number of injuries. Having traded away perpetual scapegoat Braydon Coburn and soon-to-be Cup champion Kimmo Timonon (which still brings a tear to my eye), Brandon Manning got to play a seven game run with the club to close out the disappointing season.

Signed undrafted out of college, Manning played his first season with the Phantoms in 2011-12. Over the following four seasons he put up reasonable AHL numbers (114 points in 244 games) but featured most heavily in the PIM column. Due in no small part to his willingness to drop the gloves, his personal best was 231 in 73 games during the 13-14 season.

The seven game run in 14-15 brought his NHL games played for the season to 11 (21 total in his career) and, despite the team generally being poor, allowed him to show he could cope at the highest level. As a result last season he stayed exclusively with the Flyers for the first time, starting as the 7th defenseman and dressing for 56 games, missing only three games from February 9th onwards during the Flyers impressive playoff push. He made some mistakes but was generally a reliable and steady player, ideal for the 7th defenseman role.

In this past offseason he was awarded a two year one-way deal, previously having been on single year contracts for the last three seasons. With a cap hit of $975k, many fans expected that he would be either the team’s 7th defenseman again or end up back with the Phantoms. In truth it seemed unlikely he would be risked on waivers, having just signed his first multi-year deal at a reasonable price. However, with Ivan Provorov making the team there were suddenly eight defensemen on the roster. Injuries would delay the outcome of this conundrum as Del Zotto was hurt and placed on LITR and Manning himself was day-to-day to start the season. That decision has been delayed further even after Del Zotto’s recent return due to several other lower key injuries but it seems unlikely the Flyers, if close to fully fit, would want to carry eight defensemen for an extended period – especially with a number of prospects with the Phantoms they could call upon.

Manning has managed to start the season however, and in fine form. In 13 games he has already matched last season’s point total of seven with his level of play raising questions as to his real value and whether he can keep this form up.

Numbers (Probably) Don’t Lie!

So far this season Manning’s Adjusted Corsi sits at 50.79%, so the Flyers are creating more shots than they’re conceding (5v5) while on the ice he’s on the ice but that ranks only ahead of Schultz and MacDonald.

What really has set Manning apart is the quality of goalkeeping (bear with me) while he is on the ice. Currently he is sixth on the team and leading the defense with a 91.75% save percentage (This dropped down from 94.44% before the Montreal game) – I’ve never quite understood why the NHL presents a number literally meaning ‘parts per hundred’ as a decimal of 1 (I mean I guess I could have looked it up but, you know, I didn’t). His expected goals against per 60 mins is bettered by only Gudas at 2.26. This suggests that the shots that are getting through are much more low risk and routine, though as we have seen so far this season the phrase ‘routine save’ seems to have been erased from the net minder’s lexicon. Still, it’s worth noting that the Flyers 5v5 save percent as a whole sits at 88.45%.

It’s also worth noting Manning’s zone starts. He by far starts the most defensive zone draws of any defenseman, both as a personal percentage against offensive starts (56.52%) and as an absolute number with 65 defensive starts; Streit is second with 44 with Gostisbehere at third with 41. I would infer that the coaches both trust his defensive reliability and his ability to transition play from defense to attack.

What Should We Expect Moving Forward?

Right now there’s no real reason to believe he can’t continue his current contribution to some degree. His Corsi numbers are actually down slightly from last year (51.52%) but a real difference point’s wise has been that he’s with people who are taking chances. Team shooting percentage is 6.25% (Adjusted Corsi) while he’s on the ice up from a paltry 2.59% last year due at least in part to the team actually having some second scoring. However, that 6.25% shooting percentage is pushing double most of the other defenders (though their average is also well above last seasons). Even taking this into account along with potential ice time changes with Del Zotto returning and an expected increase in play from the keepers there’s no reason to suggest that Manning shouldn’t put up between 25-35 points – not bad for a $975k cap hit.

Manning has certainly been a pleasant surprise and could certainly cause Ron Hextall some headaches come the Expansion Draft when deciding who to protect. Prior to the start of the season it would be fair to say Manning hadn’t really factored into that debate but he’s certainly started making a case for himself. Additionally, having an established defender outplay his contract would certainly help offset certain players who are achieving the opposite.

So, who’s the man? You the man, Manning my man! And long may it continue.

*All stats pulled from the superb Corsica website!

** Photo by Randy Miller

Dashed Hopes: The Curious Case of Andrew MacDonald – His Play, Contract and What it Means Down the Line

April 15th, 2014

April 15th 2014 has the potential for being a ‘dark day’ in Flyers history. The club announced the signing of Shayne Gostisbehere to his entry level contract with the club. The 2012 3rd round draft pick and future season saver signing his first contract was great news for the organization and the fans – so what makes the day so murky? April 15th 2014 is also the day Andrew MacDonald signed his 6 year, $30 million steal deal.

‘AMac’ was a pending unrestricted free agent with the Islanders, a minute crunching defenceman acquired mid-season by the Flyers. His agent then fleeced former GM Paul Holmgren for a contract to the tune of $5 million in cap space for a length of time that would seem, almost immediately to many, like an eternity. It could have been worse too, with Holmgren stating, “We talked about a lot of different scenarios, even longer than six years, but settled on six.” Small mercies…

MacDonald has taken flak from fans almost constantly since that date – and there’s still 3 more seasons after this one.

Not Exactly a Statistical King

MacDonald was traded in exchange for a 3rd and 2nd round pick – respectively – in the following to drafts, alongside a minor prospect. At the time of the trade he was a career minus player whose highest point total was 27 – a rate he would beat by one point through adding 4 assists 19 games as a Flyer. In the 2011-12 season he managed 5 goals, yet the most games he’d played in a season was 75 despite appearing on the Islanders roster in parts of the previous 5. He would manage 82 games in the season he was acquired – the only time in his career to date.

In the advanced stats department he fared no better – although it’s important to note that the Islanders were underperforming overall. He had never really threatened the 50% Corsi mark (the shot attempt differential when play is at even strength), with his highest having been 47.25% in his aforementioned devastating 5 goal 11-12 season. The trend would continue, though in all fairness does slightly improve, with the Flyers.

While not much of a play-driver, point scorer, or big hitter, MacDonald did excel at blocking shots with an average of more than 2.5 per game with the Islanders. Perhaps here is where we can start to see the real ‘effectiveness’ of MacDonald. He began far more starts in his own zone for the Islanders (around 53.3%) and basically got himself in the way of the puck whilst playing in all situations. For the Flyers he was elevated to a different role (54.07% offensive zone starts as a Flyer) – albeit with slightly less ice time overall – and was now expected to contribute more offensively, higher up the ice. Ultimately he ended up in the AHL for the greater part of the 15-16 season and although he performed well upon his return and in the 2016 pre-season his level of play rapidly deteriorated again.

Anyone who has watched MacDonald for extended periods tends to notice that he doesn’t press the gap a lot, he sort of just goes backwards. A lot. It’s almost SpongeBob SquarPants-esqe. It’s not so much that he’s a terrible skater either, he just doesn’t seem to have the the skill to contribute as his numbers suggest he is being asked when outside his own zone. He’s a more agile Nick Shultz (sorry, Nick) and a lot of fans did not seem overly pleased when he was awarded a $2.25m contract for two years, which leads to two important questions: 1) What can you do with a player so grossly overpaid and 2) Which of your hopes should I dash first?

Hope 1: The Expansion Draft

At the culmination of this season there will be an expansion draft for the new Las Vegas Aces team (what they should have been called). In truth the Flyers aren’t likely to have a lot on the board for selection by the Knights (which Las Vegas need to realise is better without the additional verb in the choices they’ve registered) One hope is that they pick MacDonald. However, because of the vast number of possibilities here, this is only worth a little speculation.

Hextall will almost certainly protect 3 defensemen and 7 forwards – my guess right now for defense is Gostisbehere, Gudas, and Del Zotto, once re-signed. Currently though Manning is looking good. And cheap. So maybe you don’t re-sign Del Zotto until after the draft and protect Manning instead. Drafting Del Zotto then wouldn’t make much sense for Vegas but we have to leave one unprotected defenseman contracted in the 17-18 season who will have played 40+ NHL games in the current season (or 70+ across the previous two). For MacDonald to meet that quota he will need to play essentially half the season. If that’s the case you might as well try a find an effective use for him.

Additionally, while Las Vegas does have to take on enough cap to reach the $43.8m mark, that’s not so hard that they will ‘need’ to take on a $5m contract (it’s less than $2m for each player in a 23 man roster). Someone like a Raffl or Read (if he keeps up decent play this year) will have more attraction depending who gets protected amongst the forwards.

So, I’m afraid I don’t see the expansion helping.

Hope 2: Trade

Maybe a trade then? Again, there’s a lot of speculation on what we could do here but I’ll try and keep it short. Hextall has proved to be a straight up wizard already, but it would be a serious test of even his Gandalf / Dumbledore hybrid of powers to find a trade partner for MacDonald.

The problem is the structure of MacDonald’s deal – his actual salary is increasing and, from next season, will be more than his cap hit (culminating in actual pay of $5.75m in the final year). Yup, Holmgren got us good with this one. Trading Pronger (for example) was made easier by the fact the final two years of the deal he was only getting a salary of $575,000 a season for a cap hit of $4.9m. Hextall then essentially retained that half a million back for a season from Grossmann’s salary as part of that trade. He pretty much just gave the Coyotes two seasons of cap hit in exchange for of half a million dollars which was nice for a cap floor team.

But – as said – AMac doesn’t have a deal like that. The only real trade choice would be to a low cap team with a serious additional package in the form of salary retention, picks, and / or prospects – a la Chicago having to part with picks and promising 2nd year forward Teravainen in order to get Bickell off the books. Something to be avoid if at all possible.

Hope 3: Buyout

Another idea is the ever-infamous buyout. The next period for this would be at the end of the current season, but this idea suffers from the length of his contract. MacDonald would still have three seasons left and that equates to a six year cap penalty for the Flyers fluctuating between $1m and $1.5m for the first three (which is actually a saving against the $5 we’d be paying instead) and a $1.83m penalty for the final three. While it’s not a devastating amount you just don’t want to be carrying that for six years.

A buyout following the 2019 seems a more likely scenario. There’d only be one year of cap saving and one of cap penalty (at a touch under $2m). The plus is that the Flyers shouldn’t be too tight for money until then at which point Simmons will need a new deal along with Provorov (and Sanhiem who will hopefully be around by then).

Hope 4: Bury Him in the AHL

This idea is so straightforward it rhymes: send him down to Allentown. No one is claiming him off the waivers and it only saves $950,000 (creeping up a pinch every other offseason). I don’t put a great deal of weight in this idea unless something else forces Hextall’s hand as the saving is so small (and the same for any player on more than $950k) and Hakstol does seem to have a place for him bar the recent scratching. Of course if another rookie starts dominating then who knows…

So…. Play Him?

This leaves what I feel is the most reasonable all round, ‘least worst’, option: play him in a really reduced role. Del Zotto should be back at the weekend and that should push MacDonald down the order. Bringing back the Nick Schultz comparison, that’s the role he should play: bottom pair, killing penalties, blocking shots, and out for defensive zone draws. Get him in a place to block shots where he is least expected to skate to the offensive zone and contribute to attacking plays.

For that reason before demoting MacDonald I’d be looking to demote – even trade if the wizard can conjure it – Schultz. The team can swallow AMac’s cap hit for a season or two while Hextall can try to shop him as a contributing NHL player and, failing that, explore the buyout in 2019. Any prospects coming into the team (including Konecny and Provorov currently) are going to be on cheap deals somewhat offsetting that $5m.

Ultimately it’s not as if MacDonald is the sole reason for the awful defensive displays so far – but cutting his time isn’t going to hurt once Del Zotto is back and up and running. Sure the contract stings and it’s going to be an obstacle for Flyers cap management but it’s not the end of the world. Yet…