It’s been on ongoing debate in Philadelphia ever since the 2014-2015 season: What is Andrew MacDonald’s purpose on the Flyers? What does he contribute to an already sub-par defensive unit? Will he ever return to be the shot blocking machine that he was circa 2013-2014?
Looking at last season’s stats compared to those before, it would seem that MacDonald is on the uptick. His blocked shots are up, points are up and so are his points. However, at a closer look, not much has changed. He gave the puck up 50 times. Yes, MacDonald was on the top pairing with rookie sensation Ivan Provorov, so he did log a decent amount of minutes. However, that’s no excuse for his poor turnover rate.
MacDonald is the definition of an enigma. He came to Philadelphia in the midst of a pretty decent season with the New York Islanders, and came with a price tag that was more than affordable, even for a cap strapped team such as the Flyers. The asking price wasn’t too terrible either. The Flyers gave up prospect Matt Mangene, who is essentially a lifer down in the AHL, a 2014 third round pick, and a 2015 second round pick. Ever since that trade, it doesn’t seem like Philadelphia got their moneys worth, and they didn’t give up much to begin with.
In three full years with the team, MacDonald has put up five goals and thirty three assists for a total of thirty eight points in a whopping 159 games. No, that does not count the time he spent down in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Look, I understand not every defenseman is going to score like Eric Karlsson or Brent Burns, but good lord, thirty eight points in three years. That speaks for itself. He had thirty seven points in only 43 games down in the AHL in 2015-2016. For goodness sake, the guy nearly matched his career total with the Flyers in 43 games down in the minors. What exactly isn’t clicking with A-Mac?
The big thing that people don’t understand is that when MacDonald was brought in and signed that ugly, ugly six year deal worth a cringeworthy thirty million dollars, Holmgren and MacDonald should have both known that a deal of that magnitude would come with some very high expectations. Expectations that clearly have not been met. It’s tough to say, but also expectations that probably won’t be met even if the Flyers let him play out the full length of his contract. Big things were expected of MacDonald right off the bat in New York. He was paired with Travis Hamonick and logged big minutes alongside his former teammate. They were the top pairing for the Isles and MacDonald never came through in the way that his coaches and front office envisioned. Sure, he was a stellar shot blocker and did a pretty good job moving the puck around, but he never really hit his full stride in a New York sweater. Fast Forward to the 2013-2014 season and MacDonald is now a Flyer. He is amidst one of his best seasons statistically with four total goals and twenty four assists, and is one of the top shot blocking defensemen in the NHL with 242 total blocked shots. One year after that, his numbers are borderline pedestrian.
Was it the pressure of being the thirty million dollar man on the Philadelphia blue line? Was it knowing that his job would end up in jeopardy with the fast rising amount of prospects coming up through the pipeline? What this all is building up towards is where does MacDonald really belong on a team where the youth is invading the NHL level, and fast, especially on the blue line?
Behind every rookie, you have a veteran who is holding his hand and trying to show him the way to being a successful hockey player. What Philadelphia has is Andrew MacDonald and Radko Gudas. One could teach how to block shots, the other how to throw bombs. Neither attribute is highly sought after without a basic understanding of how to play the position. MacDonald is the most senior defenseman on the team, and if the Flyers aren’t careful, he could be the one that these up and coming rookies model their game after. What the Flyers are missing is that solid veteran presence they had with guys like Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, even guys like Braydon Coburn. Solid contributors who could take a young guy under their wing and show them how to play a game best suited for their skill set. Samuel Morin could have learned a ton from a guy like Chris Pronger. Robert Hagg could have potentially learned a lot from him also, but is more suited to learn from a guy like Braydon Coburn. Shayne Gostisbehere had the privilege to work with Mark Streit and learn a few things from a fellow puck moving defenseman with an offense fire mentality. What kind of defenseman would the Flyers want learning from MacDonald? He doesn’t have the numbers to be considered an offensive defenseman, but also doesn’t possess the stature to be considered a traditional stay at home defenseman either.
So essentially, Hextall is stuck with the potential debuts of Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg, and maybe even Travis Sanheim this year, and having to learn on the fly from none other than Andrew MacDonald. Nothing should worry a Flyers fan more than having all these tremendous defensive prospects go pro, only to learn the ropes from Andrew MacDonald. To be fair, rookie sensation Ivan Provorov did have a pretty good first year. He tallied three times as many goals as MacDonald with six, and added 24 helpers for a total of 30 points, 12 points more than his linemate. Back in 2015-2016 when A-Mac was down with the Phantoms, he was paired with Shayne Gostisbehere for a few games and in those games, fourteen to be exact, Ghost put up ten points. Between both Provorov and Gostisbehere, it seemed like they played pretty well next to MacDonald.
What remains to be seen is the long lasting effect MacDonald will have on these two players. Ghost went through somewhat of a sophomore slump last year, and it remains to be seen how Provorov will play this year. Lines will more than likely be jumbled before the season starts due to the influx of youth moving up to defend the Flyers back end. Maybe MacDonald doesn’t make the cut and gets sent back down. Maybe he does make the cut, but ends up a healthy scratch for an elongated period of time. Maybe, he plays this season out and lays an absolute egg. Hextall then decides to buy out the remaining years of his contract. This proposes an interesting scenario.
According to CapFriendly.com, buying out MacDonald would result in the Flyers saving 3.625 million dollars in 2018-2019, 3.875 million in 2019-2020, and 1.875 million the next two years. From 2018-2020, the Flyers would have enough money to bring in a more established defenseman and potentially have him take the youngsters under his wing and teach them things that MacDonald might not otherwise be able to show them. However, logistically, this makes little sense considering the amount of talent the Flyers would have to re-sign. Players such as Matt Read, Valtteri Filppula, Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, Anthony Stolarz and so on, are up for new contracts after the 2018-2019 season, and the year after that, Wayne Simmonds, Jordan Weal, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, just to name a few, are up for new contracts. The Flyers will no doubt find a way to shed cap in order to re-sign key players, but buying out MacDonald could afford them the luxury of essentially replacing him with someone better suited to take the young up and coming defensemen under their wing and show them the ropes better than MacDonald is capable of doing.
Overall, MacDonald likely has this coming season to prove his value to the team. There will be debuts of two, potentially three new defensemen with the club, and someone needs to mentor these kids. Obviously, there are worse candidates out there to show rookies the ropes. However, looking at the situation present in Philadelphia, MacDonald could be considered their worst case scenario, taking into account the defensemen that have been with the Flyers recently including Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and even Mark Streit. Either way, the kids are coming. How they play is entirely up to them, but having the right person to look up to and be a mentor is essential in their development, and having a guy like Andrew MacDonald be “that” guy might inhibit their ability to develop accordingly.
Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports