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Why it would make sense for 2017-18 to be Andrew MacDonald’s final year with the Flyers

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Andrew MacDonald has 2 years left on his deal, but that doesn’t mean he has to spend them in orange and black.

Kate Frese/SB Nation

Many (if not all) of us have been counting down the days of the Andrew MacDonald contract since the day he signed on the dotted line nearly four years ago. It’s been a long four years, filled with shot blocking, veteran presence, starfish, and glue. I feel as though there’s been a slight shift in the fan base this season; not as much complaining, not as much fury over easy zone entries or poor reads on retrievals. It appears as though we’ve reached the indifference or even numbness stage of the Andrew MacDonald saga. It’s as though many of us have just come to the conclusion that the man we call “AMac” will remain a Flyer until his contract expires after the 2019-20 season and pray to the Hockey Gods that he isn’t re-signed.

Well, this summer may be the ideal time to put an end to the Andrew MacDonald reign, and here’s why.

Kids are banging on the door

This could very well have been the argument for the MacDonald era ending this past off-season, so the fact that this is still relevant should come as no surprise. If anything, the argument is even stronger today. Robert Hagg has become a staple in the Flyers defense corps. Travis Sanheim played 35 games with the big club before his (wrongful) demotion and – based on his underlying metrics – was impressive in those games. Philippe Myers, though often injured this season, has played very well in the games in which he’s been able to suit up and could very well make a strong case for a roster spot next season.

And then there’s the big guy (well, biggest guy) Samuel Morin, who, if not for an injury-plagued season, may have been a member of this defense corps in November. There’s also the little issue of Morin no longer being waiver exempt after this season. Could the Flyers conceivably sneak him through waivers in the final week of preseason while teams are finalizing their rosters? Maybe, but that’s a fairly significant risk to take with a 6’7” mean and physical former first round pick. Even though he has yet to find a regular place in the NHL four years after his draft year, I imagine there would at least be a small handful of teams willing to take a chance on a player of Samuel Morin’s potential.

When factoring in the likes of Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, and Radko Gudas, you are left with 3 roster spots between MacDonald, Sanheim, Morin and Myers. Hextall could decide to move on from one of the young guns, but do we truly believe he would choose MacDonald over a young, cheap, and cost-controlled defenseman? I don’t put strong odds on that occurring. There’s the possibility that he decides to go with 8 defensemen, though he hated that configuration two seasons ago so I doubt he would change his tune next season.

There’s also the possibility that he decides two of those young defensemen could benefit from more time in the AHL, but of those three, only Myers really fits that bill. And while that would give you seven defensemen for the NHL roster, that either puts MacDonalnd as the seventh defenseman or one of the kids, neither of which I see being palatable for the GM. And let’s be honest, if MacDonald is here, he’s not sitting in the press box.

The monkey wrench in the scenario would be that he decides to move on from Radko Gudas, particularly if he feels either of Samuel Morin or Philippe Myers could fill his role (ugh, that word) next season. In addition, if Hextall feels MacDonald is significantly better or feels Gudas could net him a greater return, it’s possible Gudas becomes the odd man out. That said, Gudas is younger, cheaper, and right-handed (always a plus). Despite his suspension this season, overall he has become much more disciplined in his time with the Flyers. And by the numbers, he’s been significantly better than MacDonald; a true top 4 defenseman. While I can’t say I have full trust in this organization’s ability to evaluate talent, particularly with respect to defensemen, I would hope the other factors I mentioned could play a role in determining Gudas is the better option to retain.

It’s not a guarantee by any means, but next year, more than any other year to this point, I think a strong case can be made that the kids on defense can finally phase Andrew MacDonald out of the picture.

“Veteran presence”

A strong argument can be made that MacDonald’s highly regarded “veteran presence” will no longer be essential heading into next season. Radko Gudas is more than capable of handling that role even now, so next season would be no different. It’s frankly a mystery to me why Gudas has not been mentioned by the coaching staff in that same realm. My guess would be his issues early in his career with on-ice discipline, but he’s come a long way in that regard.

In addition, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere should no longer be considered “young”, especially by next season. Provorov will be entering his third season, and in most of his first two he has been the team’s number one defenseman. I think we can all agree he is mature beyond his years. Ghost will be entering his fourth season and has now seemingly earned the trust of the coach with his strong play this season. This is something that should not be glossed over: Ghost is playing top pair minutes for a Dave Hakstol team. The fact that Ghost has earned top pair minutes under Hakstol over the ever-reliable and seemingly faultless Andrew MacDonald is not something that should be simply brushed aside.

It’s possible that the coaching staff is beginning to find MacDonald less than absolutely necessary to the team’s success, and while not optimal, it is potentially a step in the right direction.

Cap space

Hextall has been under some fire lately (rightfully so), but one of the many very good things he has done as GM is slowly but surely chip away at the salary cap issues with which he was left by Paul Holmgren. This summer, all that chipping away is due to pay off, as the Flyers will have just $57.76M designated to 17 players. The RFAs this summer include Taylor Leier, Robert Hagg, Alex Lyon, Mark Alt, Danick Martel, Anthony Stolarz, Samuel Morin and Tyrell Goulbourne; UFAs include Valtteri Filppula, Brandon Manning and Matt Read. This cap figure also does not account for Travis Sanheim or Oskar Lindblom, two players that are likely to be in the team’s plans for next season.

I’m making some assumptions here, of course, but of those 11 UFAs and RFAs, I would argue only the RFAs would be considered as players highly likely to return, a good chunk of whom are likely to be AHL players and none of whom are likely to break the bank. Basically, that’s a very longwinded way of saying the Flyers could have upwards of $20M in cap space to fill six NHL roster spots and many if not all of those spots can be filled in-house with re-signings or promotions from their prospect pool.

Because of that, the Flyers will have plenty of room to move on from MacDonald if they so choose.

Contract no longer immovable

No, not a typo, you read that correctly: Andrew MacDonald’s contract becomes more palatable this off-season. At just two years remaining, the Flyers have a few options here should they decide to move on from the leader of the Glue Man Group. One option is a buyout. According to CapFriendly, the buyout would spread out over 4 years as follows:

MacDonald Buyout

SEASON SALARY INITIAL CAP HIT ACTUAL COST SAVINGS BUYOUT CAP HIT
SEASON SALARY INITIAL CAP HIT ACTUAL COST SAVINGS BUYOUT CAP HIT
2018-19 5.5M 5M 1.875M 3.625M 1.375M
2019-20 5.75M 5M 1.875M 3.875M 1.125M
2020-21 0.000 0.000 1.875M (1.875M) 1.875M
2021-22 0.000 0.000 1.875M (1.875M) 1.875M

In terms of the cap hit, given the amount of cap space the Flyers should have starting this off-season and even moving forward due to the expected influx of young talent on ELCs, this buyout is doable. The tough part to swallow for Hextall would likely be the length, as 4 years isn’t ideal and he’s never bought out a player with more than 1 year left on his deal. But it is an option and one that isn’t totally farfetched.

The other option would be to trade him. I think it’s highly unlikely the Flyers would find a suitor at MacDonald’s cap hit of $5M, but again, with the cap space the Flyers should have moving forward, Hextall has some flexibility, and could use it to retain up to 50% of MacDonald’s salary. MacDonald at $2.5M over 2 years becomes much easier to take on as a trade partner.

As a comparable, I give you Dan Girardi. Girardi is a similar case to MacDonald. He was bought out by the New York Rangers this past off-season with 3 years remaining on a 6 year, $33 million deal. He then turned around and signed a 2 year deal for $3 million per year with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Below is a chart comparing the two “shutdown” defensemen since Andrew MacDonald entered the league in 2008. While Girardi may have been more highly regarded, the two players have been quite comparable in terms of their adjusted on-ice production and metrics at 5v5 over this span (numbers courtesy of Corsica.hockey):

AMac vs. Girardi

2008-2018 MacDonald (31 y/o) Girardi (34 y/o)
2008-2018 MacDonald (31 y/o) Girardi (34 y/o)
TOI 2995.43 5535.17
P/60 0.66 0.61
GS/60 0.7 0.59
CF% 47.63 47.38
CF% Rel -3.67 -3.83
GF% 51.71 50.28
GF% Rel 3.84 -4.03
xGF% 48.93 48.46
xGF% Rel -1.68 -2.18
iSh% 3.33 3.42
TOI% QoT 27.93 28.11
CF% QoT 50.67 51.21
TOI% QoC 29.11 29.33
CF% QoC 49.9 49.92
corsica.hockey

Kind of makes you feel bad for Ryan McDonagh, yeah? In fact, when looking at the numbers, Girardi has actually been worse overall while playing for a better team over that span, albeit over significantly more ice time.

Now obviously this is just one example and in no way guarantees MacDonald would be an easy player to move. And the Rangers were not able to move Girardi on his previous contract, hence the buyout. That said, the Flyers were not as strapped down by the cap as the Rangers were this past offseason, and Girardi does provide a very recent example of an overall not so effective “shutdown” defenseman finding a new home. If Girardi can find a 2 year deal for a slightly higher AAV and from a team that at the moment appears to be well on its way to a Stanley Cup appearance, I feel there’s reason to believe a team could take a chance on MacDonald, even if they have to trade for him.

Who could want him, and at what cost?

This becomes the $2.5-5 million question (depending on retained money) in the case of a trade. What it really boils down to is which teams out there would be looking for a “shutdown” veteran presence to potentially mentor their young defensemen or stabilize their defense corps. And at $2.5 million, that list of teams may grow slightly to include teams that don’t want to overpay in free agency for a player they deem relatively equal in value. I look at a young team like Buffalo, for example, with a relatively young defense corps and the veteran leader, Josh Gorges, up for free agency this off-season. Gorges is also 2 years older; maybe the Sabres feel MacDonald can be a younger version of Josh Gorges for them.

Take a look at Ottawa. Johnny Oduya and Chris Wideman are set to become UFAs and they may be looking to move Erik Karlsson in the coming months. With the likes of Cody Ceci and Thomas Chabot, they could see Andrew MacDonald as a cheap stopgap to help mentor their young defensemen.

How about Chicago? We already know they have a penchant for overvaluing defensemen (Seabrook, cough cough) and they may have a few openings on their blue line next year. Winnipeg will be losing Tobi Enstrom to free agency and with no real obvious prospects on the horizon, they may be willing to dip their toe into the MacDonald pool. Arizona has taken on bad contracts in the past, there may be a potential partner there. Edmonton already has Kris Russell; might as well add another one, right? Maybe Vegas with all their cap space would need a player like MacDonald to get to the cap floor.

Some of these options are tongue-in-cheek, and I’m not claiming to have done highly extensive research on which teams would absolutely be interested in Mr. MacDonald. At the end of the day I can’t really be sure of that anyways, not from where I sit. But I would not be surprised to hear of at least a few teams being interested in his services.

In terms of the value in return, I wouldn’t be asking for much of anything in return if I were Hextall. A conditional late round pick, a low level prospect. What I wouldn’t do is take on another bad contract in return. MacDonald has 2 years remaining on his deal; even if you had to keep him, it’s only for 2 more years and it’s possible a young player takes his job at some point over that span of time. The last thing you want to do is take on an equally poor or dare I say even worse contract just to move him. The Flyers are not in a situation where it’s vital to move him; it would certainly be in their best interest, but moving one bad contract for another isn’t a great plan and certainly hasn’t worked out too well for the Flyers in recent history (think Hartnell for Umberger).

This move would be almost purely addition by subtraction. You’re opening up space for players who are potentially a part of the long term plan, freeing up some cap space, and most importantly, improving the team in the process.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of information to get through here, but I wanted to try and lay it all out for you all and try to put you in my shoes, see my line of thinking on the matter. As I pointed out multiple times in the article, by no means is this a guarantee. I’m not trying to claim that Andrew MacDonald is as good as gone by next October.

Truthfully, the biggest hurdle in all of this is the Flyers’ perceived value of MacDonald. We can all want him gone as much as we want, but if the Flyers believe he is necessary to their success, he’s not going anywhere. That said, I do feel there are a number of reasons as to why it’s plausible. Whether it be the prospects on the rise and continuing evolution of this roster, or the simple fact that his contract isn’t nearly as daunting with two years remaining at half the price, I don’t think it has to be a foregone conclusion that MacDonald is wearing orange and black for the next 2 seasons.

Bottom line, it would be in the Flyers’ best interest if Andrew MacDonald was no longer on this team moving forward, and this off-season may actually be a reasonable time to think it could happen.