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…

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