Flyers Buyout Defenseman Andrew MacDonald
There are side effects to every move in today's NHL. With the salary cap in place, one transaction can send ripple effects through multiple organizations, effecting players never even rumored to be in the initial deal. In the Flyers case, the Matt Niskanen-Radko Gudas swap on Friday saw Philadelphia take on an extra $3.405 million on the salary cap, leaving the Flyers with just over $30 million to resign five key RFAs, plus Kevin Hayes.
In order to make that task a little bit easier, Chuck Fletcher announced today that Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald was placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out his contract.
While most of you cruely rejoice in this long-time-coming news, let's go over all the details here. The most black-and-white part of the news is the cap impact. The Flyers will be assessed a $1,166,667 cap penalty for the 2019-20 season, per CapFriendly. That amounts to a savings of just over $3.8 million from MacDonald's previous $5 million cap hit. The year after, the Flyers will have an extra $1,916,667 against the cap - had they kept or traded MacDonald, there would have been no cap hit attached to him for the 2020-21 season.
As mentioned earlier, there a lot of fans who are very happy about this news. The reasons for that are obvious. MacDonald was acquired for the Flyers 2014 playoff push for two draft picks that turned into budding-blueliner Brandon Carlo and top goalie prospect Ilya Sorokyin. After a decent first showing, MacDonald was rewarded with a 6-year, $30 million extension by then GM Paul Holmgren.
However, that term and salary would be forever tied to MacDonald for the rest of his Flyers tenure. In first full season as a Flyer, MacDonald struggled to live up to the hype of the massive deal. Both the eye test and advanced metrics suggested he was playing extremely poorly. As a result of his struggles, combined with a tough cap situation, MacDonald spent most of the 2015-16 season in the AHL.
MacDonald returned to the NHL at the tail end of the season due to a Michael Del Zotto injury. While he looked a little better than before down the stretch, Dave Hakstol apparently saw something in the veteran blueliner. For much of the next two years, MacDonald was assigned top-four duties, tasked with showing youngsters like Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim the ropes.
Yet for much of that time period, MacDonald still struggled. Until he was paired with Sanheim at the tail end of the 2017-18 campaign, MacDonald was consistently at the bottom of the roster in puck possession and play-driving. He was regarded as a turnstile for opposing forwards, shown by his poor Zone Entry Against Percentage. His work on the PK was equally underwhelming, as his passive playstyle was exposed on numerous occasions. And he never had the high-end offensive ability to make up for those faults.
MacDonald saw his role decrease over the course of the 2018-19 season. He was rarely trusted to play above the 3rd pairing, even under Hakstol, who had constantly gone to bat for the veteran in previous years. Mac's icetime continued to trend down under Scott Gordon. The end result was MacDonald spending the majority of the Flyers final twenty games in the press box, as up-and-comer Phil Myers took his spot for good.
However, MacDonald's tenure was not all bad. While most fans mock the "veteran presence" and leadership tags placed upon him, it's worth noting that the aforementioned youngsters have always spoken highly of MacDonald and his teaching ability. Mac had a solid playoff track record for the Flyers as well, scoring a respectable 5 points (4 goals) in 19 playoff games with the Orange and Black. His game-winning slap-shot against the Capitals in Game 4 in 2016 still remains the most recent game-winner for the Flyers in the playoffs on home ice.
That being said, all the good that MacDonald has done cannot justify the generally poor on-ice play and the large cap hit that came with him. While there were other options, such as burying Mac in the AHL or trading him with retained salary or/and adding a pick/prospect as a sweetener, this was probably the best option for both parties. For MacDonald, it gives him a chance to find a team that can use him in a sheltered, mentor role at a more reasonable cap hit. For Fletcher, it's a chance to allocate the extra dollars to focus on his main goal - making the Flyers, both this year and beyond, the best team that they can be.