One day after trading for veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher didn’t surprise anybody by buying out the last year of Andrew MacDonald’s contract.
Even if the trade for Niskanen hadn’t taken place, the Flyers probably would have said good-bye to MacDonald, who was originally signed to a six-year, $30-million deal.
Because of the dollar amount, MacDonald came under a lot of public scrutiny, turning him into somewhat of a whipping boy on social media.
MacDonald, 32, provided quiet, effective leadership, both on and off the ice and was a good mentor for young backliners such as Shayne Gostisbehere.
The Flyers put MacDonald on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.
While Fletcher might not be done making transactions for his defense, he explained that moving veteran Radko Gudas to Washington figured into his plan because rookie Philippe Myers is ready to take on that role in the third defense pairing.
“We’re continuing to look at every available option,’’ Fletcher said during a Saturday afternoon media conference call. “I will say that the move yesterday (Friday) allows us to slot players in their proper places.
“By that I mean, Radko was a very effective third pairing defenseman for us, he’s competed hard and we appreciate what he did for our organization. But going forward, we feel we have a player in Myers who can come in and take on some of that role.’’
Fletcher obviously likes what the 32-year-old Niskanen brings to the table.
“Historically, he’s a player who’s played in the top four, logged the second-most minutes of any Capital defender last year,’’ Fletcher said. “He’s taken on tough assignments, logged big minutes, played both specialty teams.
“So we feel we’re starting to slot players in their proper slots and we’ll continue to look for ways to improve our defense.’’
Fletcher had picked up more than $3 million in salary in the Niskanen-Gudas trade, so the MacDonald buyout sort of balances things out.
The GM also secured the negotiating rights to potential unrestricted free-agent center Kevin Hayes (via a recent trade with Winnipeg), so he has that to think about, too.
“Obviously we’re still working with his (Hayes’) representation to find a mutually beneficial solution,’’ Fletcher said. “Picking up Niskanen, we just don’t know what the future will hold here over the next couple weeks. . .we just wanted to maximize our cap flexibility.’’
Clearly the Flyers value Niskanen’s overall experience and, in particular, his key role in the Capitals’ Stanley Cup championship in 2017-18.
While he does turn 33 in December, the Flyers feel he can be an effective teacher for their young defensemen over the length of the remaining two years on his contract.
Niskanen did get off to a slow start last season but Fletcher said he finished strong.
“By the second half of last year and the playoffs he was a very effective defenseman,’’ Fletcher said. “This is a quality veteran who logs tough minutes. He’s still a very good hockey player.’’
Fletcher was asked if he still needs a top pairing defenseman.
“Well, they’re not easy to find,’’ he said. “Certainly if we can find a guy who can play in our top four that we would have the ability to acquire, we certainly would look at it.
“You always look to upgrade if you can but it will certainly depend on whether we can acquire that player and whether that player is even available.’’
Fletcher said MacDonald has been an asset to the Flyers organization.
“It (the buyout) was a difficult decision,’’ Fletcher said. “It was solely cap-related. This guy’s a consummate professional. We’d asked 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 to reallocate some of those dollars to maximize our chances to stay in the hunt for some players over the next couple weeks.’’
>Backup goalie picture still unclear
Fletcher had nothing new to report on a possible backup goaltender to Carter Hart next season. He can start talking to potential free agents in just over a week.
“It very well could go to July 1 (when players can be signed),’’ Fletcher said. “But there could be some opportunities prior to that.’’
>Restricted free agents still waiting
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of progress toward signing restricted free agents such as Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, according to Fletcher, but talks could accelerate at next week’s NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver.
“Hopefully, sooner than later,’’ Fletcher said. “I do expect, hopefully, the process will be a quick one.’’