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June 15, 2019

Flyers place Andrew MacDonald on waivers, will buy out remainder of his contract

On Friday, the Flyers swapped defensemen with the Capitals, trading Radko Gudas to Washington in exchange for Matt Niskanen. A day later, the Flyers made another roster move that will shake up their defensive rotation, announcing that they've placed defenseman Andrew MacDonald on unconditional waivers. 

MacDonald was entering the final year of the six-year, $30 million contract he signed with the Flyers after being acquired from the Islanders, and was carrying a sizable $5 million cap hit into the 2019-2020 season. Assuming he clears waivers, the Flyers will buy out the remainder of his contract. 

The two moves are clearly related. And once Fletcher completed the Niskanen trade, the writing was on the wall for MacDonald.

With the Flyers taking on Niskanen's contract on Friday — plus keeping a chunk of Gudas' deal on their books — it makes sense that the team would be looking to save some money and free up cap space, especially while they continue to try to negotiate with recently acquired Kevin Hayes, who is a pending free agent.

"Well, with acquiring the negotiating rights to Kevin Hayes, obviously we’re still working with his representation to find a mutually beneficial solution," general manager Chuck Fletcher said on a conference call on Saturday. "And picking up Matt Niskanen… you just don’t know what the future will hold here over the next couple weeks, so we just wanted to maximize our cap flexibility."

Given the amount of prospects and young defensemen in their system, hanging on to a 32-year-old blue-liner that didn't bring a ton to the table other than a veteran presence doesn't make much sense. Especially since he'd only fit as the 7th or 8th defenseman on the team.

"It was a difficult decision, and it was solely cap related," Fletcher said of putting MacDonald on waivers. "I’ve had a couple good conversations with Andrew, one at the end of the season and another one today, and this guy’s a consummate professional. We asked a lot of Andrew, and by that I mean he played the left side, he played the right side, he’d be a healthy scratch and then we’d put him back in the lineup. We’d ask him to play with young players and mentor them, and bring stability to our back end. He’s just a quality person and a guy who played a very effective two-way game for our team. But we are in a cap world, and we made that tough decision today to reallocate some of those dollars to maximize our chance to stay in the hunt for some players over the next couple weeks.

In addition to the cap implications, Niskanen already seems prepared to fill that role of veteran leader on the ice and in the locker room. 

"I think they have two or three young studs that are offensively talented, gifted, they have good instincts, they move the puck well, assist in the offense," Niskanen said on Friday. "I think at this point in my career, in talking with Chuck Fletcher yesterday, my job is going to be a good partner for someone. Ultimately it’s going to be up to the coaches to decide what my role is. But I envision myself being a really good partner for one of these young studs. Trying to give them confidence to do the things that they do well, and I’ll be right beside them. 

"I think I can help one of these guys, or maybe a couple of them at different points in the year, to keep getting better, do the things they do well, play a more rounded game, play some good minutes. I think I can fit in well with these young kids that can skate and move the puck. It’ll be good for our team. I think I’ll fit in well, I think I have that ability. It’s going to be hard like it always is to play well in the National Hockey League, but I’m excited about the challenge and the opportunity."

Fletcher echoed those sentiments, adding that with the combination of youth and a veteran presence, the Flyers defense is "the strength of our team going forward."

"Matt is a guy who’s played over 1000 games in the NHL when you factor in his playoff experience," Fletcher said when asked directly if Niskanen would fill MacDonald's leadership role. "He’s a guy who commands respect with how he plays and how he prepares and how he shows up every day. So certainly he’ll bring that quality veteran presence and an awful lot of experience to what is an otherwise young defense corps. Yet in saying our defense corps is young, I do believe it’s the strength of our team going forward. 

"I’ll give Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor a lot of credit here – we have some top end young talent on the back end, and I think the goal right now is to try to surround them with the right people and add some talent back there as well, but there’s no question going forward the growth and emergence of those young defensemen that I mentioned earlier is going to be a big part of our eventual success."

Among Flyers fans, the calls to move on from MacDonald have been ringing for a few years now, since long before Fletcher arrived. But inside the Flyers' dressing room, there was a ton of respect for MacDonald, as Fletcher previously stated.

In the five-plus seasons since he was traded to Philly from the Islanders, MacDonald recorded 72 points and a plus-minus of zero.

Here's a look at his career stats:

2008-09 NYI 3 0 0 0 2 2
2009-10 NYI 46 1 6 7 4 20
2010-11 NYI 60 4 23 27 9 37
2011-12 NYI 75 5 14 19 -5 26
2012-13 NYI 48 3 9 12 -2 20
2013-14 NYI/PHI 82 4 24 28 -22 50
2014-15 PHI 58 2 10 12 -5 41
2015-16 PHI 28 1 7 8 10 6
2016-17 PHI 73 2 16 18 -5 26
2017-18 PHI 66 6 15 21 8 30
2018-19 PHI 47 0 9 9 -5 18
NYI 6 yrs 295 17 72 89 -11 139
PHI 6 yrs 291 11 61 72 0 137
CAREER 11 yrs 586 28 133 161 -11 276

So where does this leave the Flyers defensive pairings? Here's a look at how Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post thinks that could shake out — assuming Fletcher is done making moves (which he likely isn't).

Ivan Provorov — Matt Niskanen

Travis Sanheim — Phil Myers

Shayne Gostisbehere — Samuel Morin

Robert Hägg  []

Could the Flyers add to their defensive corps this offseason, perhaps targeting a top-pair defenseman?

"They’re not easy to find," Fletcher said. "Certainly if we can find a guy who can play in our top four that we have the ability to acquire, we’ll certainly look at it. I will say that we have some really top-end young defensemen here that have the potential to grow in that row, if you look at Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim … we’re bullish on Philippe Myers’ upside; Shayne Gostisbehere is a young man who’s been very effective in his young career so far, and by bringing in Matt Niskanen, we feel that we have some quality defensemen. 

"You’re always looking to upgrade if you can, but it will certainly depend on whether we can acquire that player and whether even that player is available."