Kevin Schultz, Islanders Point Blank:There’s a perception disparity with Andrew MacDonald
Well, it’s not really MacDonald’s problem, per se, it’s a problem with how everyone watching the games is evaluating and analyzing the free-agent-to-be’s play. There seems to be a very stark difference with how Islanders fans — you know, the folks watching all the games — view MacDonald as compared to those keeping up with the team nationally.
Nationally, MacDonald garners a lot of praise for working a ton of minutes on the Islanders blue line, being effective, and there’s usually something along the lines of “my goodness, that cap hit,” as MacDonald is tied for the lowest paid Islander making $550,000 this year. At that cap hit, his deal is extremely attractive and could be an easy way to trade him at the deadline, should the Islanders decide to do that.
But MacDonald has garneredd a lot of praise from outside, including a couple of articles yesterday. At NHL.com, his offensive contributions were highlighted for fantasy hockey purposes, as he is only five points away from a career high. With the absences of Mark Strait and Lubomir Visnovsky, MacDonald has been pushed to play more minutes and is now the No. 1 defender on the power play. A good pick up if your team needs blue line points, for sure.
Going further, SI’s Allan Muir added MacDonald to his Canadian Olympic Snub Team, which is really more a list of really good Canadians that Canada simply doesn’t have roster spots for.
MacDonald is usually talked about positively outside of Long Island, but no one really had him on the Olympic radar (especially since it was Travis Hamonic, not MacDonald, who got the invite to Team Canada camp over the summer.
And, earlier this week some folks in the DC area expressed interest in adding MacDonald, including Caps beat writer Adam Vingan.
All of this is a stark contrast to what Islander fans seem to think of MacDonald. Not that folks have pitchforks out for him, when he got hurt during the playoffs last year I think everyone realized that he is an important defender on the roster, but it’s not such shiny and effusive praise. Here’s a small sampling of some of that.
So, what’s the truth?
For some help, I turned to someone who toes both lines. Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy covers the NHL and is a Penguins fan but is from Long Island, so he spends a good bit of time at the Coliseum covering hockey and is certainly familiar with the Islanders. I asked him yesterday about the differing views on MacDonald:
He’s fine for now, if you’re looking at him offensively. But when he hits the free agent market this summer and some general manager gives him 5 x $4.5 million, then the hype will die down.
In my opinion, Leahy hit the nail on the head. MacDonald, at a glance, looks amazing. He’s putting up career high numbers, and is sixth in the entire NHL in average ice time per game at 25:48 (sidebar: Ryan Suter is leading the league at 29:41 per game that’s literally half of every game and we’re halfway through the season!). Then, when you look at his cap hit it’s really easy to go, ‘wow, the Islanders have a top-pair defender for well under $1 million’.
When you really drill down, you realize that he’s probably at best a solid three or four guy who is way, way over worked.
MacDonald’s fancy stats are poor. Really poor. His corsi number is tied with Matt Martin for third worst on a team that lets up the second most goals in the NHL and ninth most shots. That’s especially bad because Martin is a guy you don’t expect to necessarily get pucks at the net or away from his own net while MacDonald should at least be keeping them away from his. Plus! MacDonald plays a ton on the power play, a place where his team should be getting loads of shot attempts but even when we include those numbers it’s still not good.
Earlier this year, Garik broke down the numbers on MacDonald based on level of competition. He concluded that MacDonald was playing poorly against all levels of competition all the way from ‘elite’ down to ‘poor’.
All that’s not to say, hey, kick this guy off the team right now. MacDonald is on pace for a career high in points and blocks more shots than anyone else in the NHL. There is value in him as an NHL defender; he’s not Bruno Gervais-ing it up out there. But it certainly seems a sure bet that he’s not the top pair defender the Islanders have tried to wedge him into becoming the past two seasons.
The question for Garth Snow going forward is: Can you convince another GM that these overwhelmingly positive outsiders who love MacDonald are correct and get an accordingly valuable return? It certainly seems as though that’s a possibility.
Keeping MacDonald, who is — all debate be damned — going to get paid millions this July doesn’t necessarily fit in the Islanders plans. One, because they’ll need to pay Thomas Vanek and/or a goalie this off-season, and two, because they just don’t pay money to their pending free agents, especially when those guys are likely to get a big contract on the open market (examples: PA Parenteau, Mark Streit).
Plus, if the Islanders keep MacDonald, they’ll need to deal with finding him a spot given the youth that is expected to be on Long Island next year (Donovan, de Haan, Reinhart, plus the possibility of Pulock, Pedan and Mayfield) and the contracts they already have (Hickey, Carkner, Strait, Visnovsky). And they would be doing so with the knowledge that he’s not a top-pair defender on this team. The locals and #IslesTwitter may get crazy and blow things out of proportion, but they probably aren’t pulling deficiencies in MacDonald’s game out of thin air, either.
There’s still a ways to go to see how exactly this plays out. The Islanders are two months from the trade deadline and hot, having won 7 of their last 10. They should, for all intents and purposes, be out of the playoffs but given the weak Metro Division they’re still hanging around, eight back of third place. If I had to wager a guess, I’d think this one could go down to the wire and depend on the team’s play over the next month.