Before training camp started, I thought there was no way Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was trading or demoting defenseman Andrew MacDonald. Besides his albatross-like contract, Hextall has always valued the former Islander and with an evolving defense turning younger, even more value would be placed on him.
At first that seemed to hold true. MacDonald sat out the first two preseason contests where junior prospects, Phantoms and mostly non-locked NHL players took part. Robert Hagg and Sam Morin, two defensive prospects with an eye on a Flyers roster spot, looked like NHL players, but that was not the case for Travis Sanheim.
Then Wednesday night, Sanheim showed why he was in the discussion to begin with, playing a calmer, effective offensive game against the New York Islanders. He followed that up Thursday night with an even better game and the lone Philly goal on the score sheet. MacDonald was the worst Flyers defender on the ice and was guilty for the Boston Bruins’ overtime winner.
That begins to beg the question: does Sanheim have a chance at making the roster over MacDonald? If it does happen, it will take a lot of maneuvering and planning.
First off, it will have to be MacDonald moved. Sanheim is better than Brandon Manning, but Hextall won’t play a prospect in that seventh role and the other five blueliners all deserve spots also and figure to be ahead of the Calgary Hitmen product.
The biggest reasons why Hextall values MacDonald is that he is a veteran and can play 20 minutes or more a night. Say what you want about his skill, but MacDonald making a mistake at 31 years old is far less damaging to his mindset and confidence than it is to a 20 year old that might not be fully ready for the NHL.
Flyers fans saw that to a degree last season with Shayne Gostisbehere, who dealt with confidence issues along with rehabilitation from a surgery.
But filling the ice time will also be difficult. Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Radko Gudas can handle 20 minutes a night easily, but that still leaves about 60 minutes of ice team between the rest of the defense. That may be a lot for Morin, Hagg and Sanheim.
Then there’s the fact that the defense (not including Manning, who won’t play most games) is all under 27 years old and has a combined 495 NHL games between them. There would surely be growing pains with that group.
The easy response to that is that there is plenty of pain with MacDonald in the lineup, which is where Sanheim’s biggest argument comes from. Hextall has said in the past that if a prospect is ready for the NHL, they’ll make a spot for him:
So let’s say Sanheim continues to impress as the preseason finishes up and MacDonald struggles, which isn’t completely out of the question, how do the Flyers move MacDonald and his $5 million cap hit with three years left?
The easiest way is to just demote him to the Phantoms. He’s off the roster then, but would only save Philadelphia $925,000 on the salary cap. Hextall has done it before with MacDonald, but it’s not ideal.
The Flyers will still be close to the salary cap and they’ll be stashing a player in the AHL, never a greatly respected move around the NHL. It was one of the reasons Valterri Filppula rejected a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs last season.
It’s too late for a buyout and would be too costly to do so, leaving just a trade as the only other option.
I firmly believe that if Hextall tried, he could deal MacDonald. Over the years, we’ve seen bad contracts like Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland, David Clarkson and Vincent Lecavalier move to another team.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, most of those deals weren’t typical players on just bad deals. They were/are players on injured reserve who won’t ever play again or ones who agreed to retire early. Bickell was the only player moved at the time with no ulterior issues and he was dealt with 21 year old Teuvo Teravainen for just a second and third-round pick.
It will be costly for the Flyers to trade MacDonald. They should and are able to retain up to half of the contract, making it much more appealing at $2.5 million for three years and would be easier on their cap.
Still, there’s no doubt another team would ask for more and Philly has a possible two first-round picks in next year’s draft, something any other team would probably look into. There’s a chance a second-round pick for a small return is possible, but Hextall has always been reluctant to deal draft picks.
One positive if something along those lines does happen is the Flyers will then have the cap space to pick up a veteran on the waiver wire, in a trade or in free agency if they so choose, at a smaller cap hit and shorter deal.
If Hextall does move MacDonald it will boil down to Sanheim’s play over the next two weeks, what type of price he has to pay to move the contract or if he’s comfortable sending the veteran to the minors.
Sanheim will need the same consistent effort that he’s exerted over the past two games and maybe the right deal to come along for Hextall. Not impossible by a longshot, but not a probability either.