The Flyers sent shockwaves throughout the hockey world this afternoon by putting defenseman Andrew MacDonald and his remaining five years and $25 million on waivers. It’s a contract that shouldn’t have been signed to begin with, since it was clear from Day 1 that the team was worse off with MacDonald on the ice.
That was the
prevailing notion from the analytics community during the
2013-14 season when MacDonald was a
pending UFA on the trade block. And then again from Flyers bloggers at Broad Street Hockey, SB Nation’s Flyer’s blog,
signed his mega deal. Here’s
another one from TSN’s Travis Yost from the same summer. That’s eight links on why a single player needed to be avoided at all costs, and the reason why is staring the Flyers in the face just a year and a half later as MacDonald is on his way out of the NHL. Before the signing, MacDonald was one of the league’s worst possession players and was due for an undeserved raise thanks to his shot-blocking prowess and defensive awareness. While he may have provided value that way, it was completely negated by how much time opposing teams spent in his zone while he was on the ice – although MacDonald’s numbers did improve last season in a much more limited role.
MacDonald’s play was hurting the team and he definitely wasn’t living up to the money he was earning, so Hextall deserves some credit here for making a tough decision. The Flyers GM swallowed his pride and placed a huge contract on waivers to improve the team. The cap situation is still brutal as $4.05 million of MacDonald’s contract stays on the books, but the on-ice product will be much more competitive as a result. That’s just one of the few sneaky good moves that Hextall has managed to pull off this off-season. Hextall’s big plays were based on addition by subtraction as the Flyers’ got rid of their four largest detriments (Average WAR/82 over last three seasons in brackets): MacDonald (-1.1), Zac Rinaldo (-0.9), Nicklas Grossmann (-0.5) and Ray Emery (-0.8). That’s almost seven points from their absence alone. Many pundits have pegged the Flyers to be at or near the bottom of the Metro division, but their outlook for this season might not be that dire. We had the Flyers at sixth place in their division in
our season preview, but their projections based on WAR had them fifth with 91 points and a 44 percent shot at the playoffs. And that was with MacDonald on the roster who was projected to contribute almost one negative win on his own. Without him – and depending on his replacement – the Flyers will likely get 92 or 93 points this season and are probably a 50-50 playoff team in the East. A lot of things need to go right for the team, but as of now they’re a legitimate bubble team. They still have two of the league’s best offensive players in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, plus an enviable top six at forward. Steve Mason needs to maintain his career resurgence in goal, but his numbers since coming to Philadelphia look promising. The D may still be a mess, but it’s not as bad anymore now that MacDonald is AHL-bound. It’s not a guarantee that the Flyers will make the playoffs, but they’re definitely an Eastern Conference dark horse. It’ll be ultra tough in a very competitive Metro division, but don’t count the Flyers out of the mix.