By Jeff Capellini
You can’t kill Garth Snow for this one.
For some strange reason Andrew MacDonald is a coveted commodity around the NHL. And since the Islanders are now faced with having to trade him prior to the March 5 deadline or risk losing him for nothing over the summer, they figure to get something really substantial for him.
Here is a 27-year-old career Islander — and by all accounts just a peach of a guy — trying to make up for lost time. He gave the Islanders an absolute gift back in 2010, signing a four-year, $2.2 million contract. His cap hit is just $550,000 this season.
It’s maybe the most cost-effective contract in the league.
But if after watching him play this season someone out there wants to pay him $5 million per season, I say be my guest. The Islanders are very smart not to.
MacDonald recently rejected the Isles’ four-year, $16 million offer, which to me was slightly more than they should have offered in the first place. The Islanders will now almost certainly trade him and hold out for a first-round draft pick, which, if you take the temperature of the rest of the NHL, they could very well get.
General managers love this guy. They see him as a high-caliber, puck-moving defenseman who could be just a genius as a power-play quarterback.
But MacDonald’s problem is he is the same player he was when he signed the extension with the Islanders four years ago. He has not taken that next step. He is still about potential, not reality, and at the end of the day he remains a better than average offensive defenseman who is often a liability in his own end.
And on a team constantly plugging in kids on the blue line in front of a goaltending situation that at times is downright frightening, the Islanders can ill afford to pay a veteran like MacDonald what he wants. He has given them no indication he can do much more in his own end than block shots, which, to his credit, he does a lot. He currently leads the league with 185, well ahead of runner-up Josh Georges of the Montreal Canadiens.
But besides MacDonald sacrificing his body to the hockey gods, if you watch him play night in and night out, he struggles to match up with power forwards. He sometimes falls asleep in his own end and gives the puck away a heck of a lot more than should be deemed acceptable. The Islanders, of course, let it slide because AMac is one of their own in addition to being a young veteran who plays a ton of minutes and has an offensive upside.
It has been a rough week for Snow publicly. He’s taken a beating for the Thomas Vanek trade and is now faced with dealing not just a guy he traded the moon and stars to get back in October, but also a young defenseman who plays nearly 26 minutes per game.
As I wrote earlier this week, I don’t blame Snow one bit for trading for Vanek, even with him being in the final year of his contract. For various reasons that I explained, the Islanders need to push the envelope more than most teams to acquire top talent. And while criticism for this kind of failed gamble was inevitable, most of the people throwing Snow under the bus have no idea the thought process and game plan that went into making the trade in the first place.
In the case of MacDonald, I applaud Snow for taking the conservative approach. If he had accepted the offer, AMac would have made, on average, seven times more next season than he’s making this season. But he chose to roll the dice and try breaking the bank over the summer. More power to him.
But let him be someone else’s problem. The Islanders generally operate in terms of long-term plans, and they have a bunch of defensemen, including last year’s first-round pick, Griffin Reinhart, waiting in the wings. MacDonald is an acceptable loss, a void that can be filled on the roster temporarily with a more defensive-minded veteran either during free agency or through a trade.
The Islanders could skate away from the Vanek and MacDonald trades in somewhat better shape than most assume. And while it is true they likely won’t be getting a player of Matt Moulson’s caliber back, they could end up getting two first-round picks, an underutilized younger veteran and a top prospect.
With the Islanders on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff race it would behoove them to take the youth back and call it a day — at least until the offseason. They could then try to package some of those elements for a defenseman before moving on to free agency, where they absolutely must spend a decent amount of money on a goaltender.
They will also at least check in on Vanek to see if he’s the genuine article, someone true to his word about wanting to see what’s out there before making up his mind. Remember, there’s a good chance he won’t see an offer much better than the reported seven-year, $50 million deal the Islanders threw out there. That’s not to say Vanek will sign with them, but they are at least still in the conversation.
The bottom line with the Islanders is after the deadline they should be in no worse shape than they were when the season started. Odds are Moulson was going to test free agency as well and there was likely no way the Isles would match years with a team more ready to win now.
So, really, what did they lose? If you want to criticize Snow for last summer’s inactivity, I will join you at the head of the line. But otherwise, the Isles could end up no worse for wear, with more assets to play with. And with the salary cap reportedly going up next season, coupled with this front office’s desire to spend, there’s no reason why this offseason can’t be eventful.
I know you’ve heard all that before, but the signs point more definitively to it happening this offseason than any before it.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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