June 15 is the first day on the hockey calendar on which teams can put in motion plans to buy a player out of his existing contract, and Chuck Fletcher decided that he was going to waste as little time as possible to do just that with the Flyers’ clear most obvious buyout candidate.
Per the team, this afternoon:
Per GM Chuck Fletcher: The #Flyers have placed defenseman Andrew MacDonald on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) June 15, 2019
The move does, and means, a few things.
First, the final year of MacDonald’s infamous six-year, $30 million contract is now gone and he is off the roster. The Flyers (numbers courtesy of CapFriendly) will pay a $1,166,667 charge against the cap this year for that buyout, meaning they will save $3,833,333 against this year’s cap compared to MacDonald’s previous cap hit. In return for this, they will carry a $1,916,667 charge on their 2020-21 salary cap.
With MacDonald slowly falling out of the team’s favor last season, frequently getting healthy scratched and seeing his minutes reduced from what they had been in seasons past, there was reason to believe he may not be in the team’s plans this year. There was an argument to be made that perhaps sending MacDonald to the AHL while still taking on most of his cap hit at the NHL level may have been the more prudent option from a cap perspective, so as to avoid the charge that is now on the team’s 2020-21 cap, but taking on that hit to free up an extra $3.8 million in space this year strongly suggests that Chuck Fletcher wants to have as much salary cap space available to him this summer as possible.
Second, this (of course) means that MacDonald — who, believe it or not, was the team’s longest-tenured defenseman — will not be on the team next year. He will not be available for the Flyers to play, or put in the press box, or send to Lehigh Valley, or anything of the sort. He will not be playing with Ivan Provorov or Shayne Gostisbehere or Travis Sanheim. He will not be on the Flyers.
MacDonald came to the Flyers at the trade deadline in 2014, in a move that some liked and that some immediately and strongly questioned. MacDonald then, in the eyes of the front office in place at the time (and certainly not of all observers), played well enough to earn a six-year, $30 million contract extension, a contract that perhaps embodies what the Flyers have been over the past half-decade more than anything else that has been in their orbit during that time.
One could reasonably say that there were “ups and downs” during MacDonald’s time with the Flyers, but doing so in a vacuum would likely overstate the ups and understate the downs. MacDonald was sent to Lehigh Valley in the second year of that deal after getting legitimately outplayed by seven other players in training camp. He received an almost incomprehensible amount of credit for Ivan Provorov’s strong rookie year, when in fact there was a lot of evidence that he was probably holding Provorov back that season. He came back early from a six-week injury at the start of this past season and was almost unfathomably bad to the point that the team actually had to sit him down and not play him for a while. And throughout it all, his underlying numbers were largely poor, which was not surprising to anyone paying attention. MacDonald — and his contract — became an easy punching bag for fans during his time here.
None of this is MacDonald’s fault. He was played in an role with the Islanders that was above his capabilities during his time there and the Flyers believed he could play that role successfully with them, and they gave up the assets and the contract to get him to try and do it long-term. It took some people longer than others to admit it, but pretty much everyone finally came around to agree that it didn’t work. The acquisition of Matt Niskanen on Friday — and the additional $3.4 million in cap space that it takes up for the Flyers — seemed to accelerate this process, but with or without that trade, this move had to be made, and credit to Chuck Fletcher for recognizing that.
With another body out of the way on defense, it remains to be seen what Fletcher’s plans are. Does he see a seventh defenseman spot that just opened up? Or is there going to be a bigger change coming on the blue line? We’ll see.
So long, Andrew.