Veteran Andrew MacDonald making the most of demotion to the Phantoms
Acquired in 2014 and soon after signed to a big contract, defenseman doing his best to adjust to playing in the minors.
ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The lights inside PPL Center dimmed and the music revved up minutes before puck drop Sunday night. Two large doors remained open behind the goal the Lehigh Valley Phantoms would shoot at twice.
A display of smoke and small flames lined each side of the entrance and shot off as each Phantoms starter was announced.
Shayne Gostisbehere's name was called first, and the defenseman came jogging out of the hallway and onto the ice.
His defensive partner was next, "No. 47, Andrew MacDonald." The American Hockey League's highest-paid player and one of the Phantoms' alternate captains made his way onto the ice.
Two players on opposite sides of the spectrum in the Flyers' organization. One, Gostisbehere, a young, budding defenseman. The other, MacDonald, waived from the big club as the team's final cut from training camp, his $5 million salary cap hit too rich for his value on the ice. And the Flyers have shown this season they don't care how much a player makes. Performance is what gets ice time.
MacDonald - acquired from the New York Islanders in the spring of 2014 and then signed to a highly criticized, six-year, $30 million deal by then-general manager, Paul Holmgren - hasn't been a regular minor leaguer since 2008-09.
But that has changed at age 29.
"Obviously, it's a bit of an adjustment," MacDonald said after the Phantoms fell, 3-1, to the Toronto Marlies in their third game in three nights. "At this point, I'm settling in here and just trying to help the team win here."
And playing three games in three nights?
"It's been a while," MacDonald said with a laugh.
He might have to get used to it. The Phantoms have eight more of those sets the rest of the season. And the way it looks right now, MacDonald, who has three assists and a plus-3 rating in six games, isn't coming back to the NHL anytime soon. The Flyers, who gained $950,000 in cap relief when they sent MacDonald down, simply don't have the space to bring him back up.
"Quite frankly, we'd like to get him back up," said general manager Ron Hextall, who was in attendance Sunday. "It's a situation right now that's partly out of our hands and his hands.
"It's certainly not the way you script it. You don't want to have a guy making a ton of money here. That's not the way you plan things. Obviously, sometimes you have to adjust.
"This is not something that I want to do every year."
It's not what MacDonald expected to happen, especially not in Year 2 of his six-year deal. He got married at the All-Star break last season. He and his wife, Hali, gave birth to their first child, a son named Mason, in May and were settled in Philadelphia.
Luckily for him, the Flyers' AHL affiliate is close by and not a flight away, as with some NHL teams. He can still get home to Philadelphia when he's not on the road or not needing to stay in a hotel in the Lehigh Valley.
"It could be a worse situation," MacDonald said. "I could be out on the West Coast or somewhere far away, where you can't just make the drive. It's certainly worth the hour-and-20-minute drive to get home to see your wife and kid."
In Lehigh Valley, he's been reunited with his former coach in New York, Scott Gordon, who was with MacDonald for three training camps and was MacDonald's first NHL coach when he reached the NHL for the first time.
Gordon said MacDonald's attitude has been great.
"This is a great opportunity for him to be out of the spotlight and go out there and know that he can make a mistake and not have to worry about the consequences as much as they are in the NHL," Gordon said.
Gordon said he's had about 10 players sent to the minors who didn't expect it - like MacDonald - in his time coaching in the AHL level, which he did for eight seasons in the Boston Bruins organization. Only Ted Donato, who was sent to Providence as a veteran from the Bruins, made it back to the NHL a short time later.
"Whether you do get back or not, that's great," Gordon said he told MacDonald. "But you're also auditioning for 29 other teams. And if things work out and somebody needs a defenseman, you want to at least be down here playing well, playing your game.
"Personally, I don't think you're one of the nine. I think you're in the Ted Donato mold. It's not going to surprise me that you're going to come here and have a good attitude, just because I know who you are and what you're about and how you got here. Your process is a lot different than some guys'. You had to earn your right to the NHL and you have to do the same thing now."
Too bad for MacDonald that whether or not he makes it back to the NHL is largely out of his control, no matter how well he plays.