Sunday, November 24, 2013

Andrew MacDonald Should Be on the Leafs Radar

A lot has been made about how the Leafs could really benefit from adding another defenseman to replace Carl Gunnarsson on the top pair alongside Dion Phaneuf.  For example, a lot of people thought the Leafs should have aggressively pursued Jay Bouwmeester before he was dealt at the trade deadline last season.

Well, suitable top-pairing defensemen don't grow on trees.  We've seen this firsthand over the years: a guy like Jay Bouwmeester doesn't become available very often and when guys like that do become available they come at a premium.  But every season, there might be one or two oppurtunities that present themselves where a team can actually bring in someone like that.  And this year it seems Andrew MacDonald of the New York Islanders could be that guy.

Here's a quick rundown of Andrew MacDonald: first of all, he's an impending unrestricted free agent.  More importantly, he's a model of consistency, averaging between 23:22 and 23:31 of ice-time per game between 2011 and 2013.  And this year with the departure of Mark Streit he's taken on an even bigger role, currently averaging 26:29 a game through 24 games.  MacDonald is a steady player that makes quiet and efficient plays, moving the puck well and contributing some secondary offense from the back-end.  While he hasn't measured great in advanced stats the last two seasons (-10.8 and -22.9 Corsi Rel in '13 and '14 respectively), he has taken on not only a larger role but a tougher one: he's had a Corsi Rel QoC of 1.005 and 1.527 the last two years.  In the two seasons prior he had a Corsi Rel of 1.2 and -2.5 while being handed a more modest .739 and .628 in the Corsi Rel QoC category.  While his load should probably be lightened a bit to help him play more effectively, the potential is there for him to play hard minutes, remain around even in the possession game, and provide strong defense.  Also of note is that, excluding his first brief stint in the NHL where he only played 3 games in a season, MacDonald's been between 44.4% and 48.8% in offensive zone starts in the regular season.  In other words, he can handle relatively tough zone starts.  Another great thing is that he's only 27 and will only be 28 when his next contract (whoever that comes with) kicks in, so there isn't as much concern about regression with age as there is with seemingly most UFAs.  And hey, just to appease the crowd worried about character, MacDonald wears an A on his jersey.

I should finish by saying that for one, I know that free agency is a long ways away and that MacDonald may very well re-sign in Long Island before that.  But the trade deadline isn't as far away and the Islanders are struggling a little bit right now, so that possibility is always open.  Another thing is that there are plenty of other good unrestricted free agents that could be available as things stand right now: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Thomas Vanek, Andrei Markov, Henrik Lundqvist, Paul Stastny, and Ryan Callahan among others.  They could all end up re-signing with their current teams or maybe none of them will.  Either way, they all deserve some consideration as potential pick-ups for the Leafs, especially the centers like Joe Thornton and Paul Stastny.  But the fact remains that the Leafs could probably stand to upgrade their top pair, and Andrew MacDonald could be a near perfect fit.

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