Andrew MacDonald is an NHL defenseman, though his caliber is very much in debate. He is one with the age and service to command unrestricted free agent leverage and its inherent inflated salary, but not for that much, and that long.
The Philadelphia Flyers, as they are wont to do, signed MacDonald for much more and much longer than many others would advise, curiously announcing a 6-year, $30 million contract on the eve of the playoffs, after 19 games spent wearing the "other" orange.
Certainly the Islanders -- who liked MacDonald enough to give him the most ice time of any player (25:25 per game) during the 63 games he was here in a season where they expected to compete -- thought six years and $30 million was too much. That's why the Isles dealt MacDonald at the trade deadline, with contract extension talks not going much beyond a reported 4-year, $16-million offer earlier in the season.
Good for MacDonald, who deserves a payday after years of NHL minimum wage, but even the Isles' offer was bordering on crazy. Yet now here the Flyers have offered him much more, commensurate with a role he's clearly not able to play.
Meanwhile, it looks like the Isles got the most out of this asset and sold at the right time. Brought up to the NHL to log minutes on a contract that was famously a bargain at four years with an average of $550,000, MacDonald was ready to cash in during a walk year where the Islanders used him a ton, including lots of points opportunities on the contract-juicing power play.
Yet as well played as this pump-and-dump result now appears, the Isles still used this player a lot. They still offered him a handsome extension. We may never know whether the organization's faith in MacDonald was more on the coaches (who seemed to use him so much to the detriment of the overall team) or the general manager who was happy to keep him and pump up his value even as his workload arguably held the team back.
As you probably know, there are conflicting views on MacDonald, with most analytics-based assessments painting a grisly picture, while many traditional eyes-based analysis raising red flags too. (With good reason, too: The margin on the numbers that impugn MacDonald's effect were not so small as to be written off as mere noise and difference of opinion; there is definitely something going on.)
Yes, he blocks a lot of shots (but then by definition lacks possession too much). Yes, he plays hard on his man in the defensive zone (but then gives up too much space over the blueline). Yes, he put up points (but was hardly the key cog to the power play). Yes, he's a loyal, solid character (but financially that is only worth so much, which is to say not a lot).
Garik16 looked at this at least twice over the past year, using last season and this one, with one nagging question being whether it was MacDonald or his partner Travis Hamonic -- whom the Isles signed to his own six-year extension -- dragging the group down. Now I think it's clear the culprit was MacDonald, and Hamonic hopefully experienced an awakening down the stretch with partners like Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey.
Jewels from the Crown looked at it near the deadline:
The only players worse than him in the entire league play for possession luminaries like Toronto and Edmonton and Buffalo. While the Islanders are certainly not a good team, their possession numbers as a team are clearly out of the basement. MacDonald is the only Islander in the bottom fifty defenders (with 44+ games) in the league in terms of Corsi.
How is Hamonic out-performing MacDonald by such a significant margin if they're playing the same role on the same team [and pairing]?
In the finest language it could find about MacDonald, Broad Street Hockey tried to understand the paradox by first pointing out some positives:
He plays tight man-coverage, something that was, and is, a welcome addition to a Flyers blueline that all too often "puck watches" and loses sight of their responsibility. I even commented that MacDonald almost seemed too dedicated to his man at times, often turning his back on the puck in order to stay tight to his man. Additionally, MacDonald is quite obviously one of the Flyers more mobile defenseman, and he is capable of some pretty adept passing.
That's as good as the language got, and while there is value in those qualities, it's not six years, it's not $5 million per.
Puck Daddy reflected a common opinion of the contract (though more traditionalist and mainstream avenues view the whole saga as a master stroke by the Flyers)
Granted, this is NHL economics, so the prevailing wisdom is that SOMEONE would have given him the money, but that’s next exactly a sterling defense of a deal that has an average defenseman locked up for six years with a $5 million annual cap hit.
In the end, the Islanders got the best they could out of MacDonald, then dealt him for some pretty good picks. Thanks to the contract that followed, they just might have damaged a division rival in the process.