Unless the Philadelphia Flyers sign another defenseman for more than $5 million this summer, Andrew MacDonald will be the second-highest paid blueliner on their roster next season.
MacDonald’s freshly signed six-year, $30 million extension with the Flyers isn’t a bad deal on its own. He’s a shutdown, shot-blocking defender who plays 21-plus minutes a game in the NHL and the salary cap will be on the way up this summer. But when you add the investment in MacDonald to the other commitments Philadelphia has made on the blueline, it becomes troubling.
First of all, analytics aren’t friendly to MacDonald, who has a negative Corsi relative percentage (meaning his team is better when he's off the ice) despite being strong within his own zone. Kevin Christmann of Broad Street Hockey had an excellent breakdown on how MacDonald’s iffy neutral zone play negatively impacts these stats. But there’s no denying the Flyers defenseman is effective within his own zone, specializing in shot blocking. This would suggest MacDonald is a serviceable player to have on the roster, but one who had been thrust into a bigger role than he’s qualified for, both with the Islanders and Flyers. And now Philadelphia, a team with defense concerns, will lock him into that role by paying him as a top two or three blueliner for the next six seasons.
There’s also a legitimate health concern with MacDonald, since his primary skill (blocking shots) lends itself to bumps and bruises. So far, it hasn’t hurt MacDonald – he’s missed only seven games in the past three years. However, it’s bound to catch up with him at some point. The Flyers, already with a creaking, cracking defense corps, has now committed to a player who should be considered an injury risk for precisely the reason the team signed him for.
If MacDonald was signing on to a defense that was already well-rounded and already had at least an established and reliable top two, this contract would be palatable. MacDonald is a pretty good NHL defenseman, but he’s not a leader or a guy a Stanley Cup champion would lean on.
Consider that next season, Philadelphia has committed $21.85 million – 30.7 percent of the cap - to five defensemen: Braydon Coburn, Mark Streit, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann and MacDonald. Slow or one-dimensional, this group has a lot of holes in it for such a large commitment. Barring a buyout or trade, this group is locked in through the 2015-16 season as well.
MacDonald is by no means a bad NHL defenseman and if $5 million is too much of a cap investment in him (against a rising cap remember), it isn’t by too much. Pending Penguins UFA Matt Niskanen has been ball-parked at around $4 to $4.5 million and may get more on the open market, so that’s right around where MacDonald would have been, too.
But for the Flyers to put this much money and term down on another defenseman who doesn’t add anything terribly unique or influential to the blueline is troubling. Their mediocre defense didn’t get any better – and they’re running out of cap room to make that happen.