Goaltender Michael Leighton has been placed on waivers.
After returning from back surgery that kept him off the ice for the first two and a half months of the season, Leighton played in four games for the Adirondack Phantoms on a conditioning stint to get back into shape. Ian Laperriere and defenseman Matt Walker were placed on long-term injury reserve in order to get the team under the salary cap while Leighton’s salary came back on the books, but he has only played in one game since.
According to TSN, general manager Paul Holmgren told reporters, “Right now, he’s in training camp mode, and needs to get up to speed to help our team… the only way he’s going to do that, is if he goes down. We all expected him to be a little rusty.”
Rusty is one way of putting it. Leighton was shaky in his debut against the Los Angeles Kings, letting in a softie from forward Ryan Smyth that was uncomfortably similar to Blackhawk Patrick Kane’s overtime game winner in the Stanley Cup Finals.
I had expected the organization to give him more playing time to help gauge whether he was truly ready to take back the starting role. After all, why constrain your team with LTIR restrictions if you’re just going to waive him a few weeks later? This decision reeks of poor planning.
Trading him was apparently impossible, as Holmgren told reporters, “We looked around a little bit, but there was nothing there.” There are several teams that could certainly use more stability in net, including the Ottawa Senators. Their starter, Pascal Leclaire, has been injured multiple times this season while back-up Brian Elliott is hot-and-cold. Trading for Leighton, though, makes less sense than simply waiting for him to be placed on waivers.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he cleared waivers tomorrow, but it’s almost a guarantee that he would get picked up on re-entry if the Flyers were crazy enough to do it. If claimed on the way down, the team would no longer be on the hook for his salary, but if claimed on re-entry, they would be liable for half of his contract for the remainder of the contract (this year and next). It’s not a pleasant scenario for a team that finds itself up against the limit every single year.
I ultimately agree with the decision from a talent perspective. As Holmgren stated, “This has more to do with the way the other two guys have played… we expect them to continue playing well.” Boucher earned the win last night against the Detroit Red Wings and looked sharp during it. He’s still not what you would consider an elite goaltender, but he’s more than capable of playing solidly with a good defense in front of him.
Sergei Bobrovsky, meanwhile, will continue to get ice time to help his development. With Boucher’s contract expiring at the end of the season, Bobrovsky may become the next face of this franchise before 2011 is over.
In the event of injuries, there aren’t many other options other than Leighton currently at the Flyers’ disposal. Johan Backlund has not had a strong season with the Phantoms and has been injured for much of it. On the plus side, he will not be exposed to re-entry waivers if recalled. Goaltenders Nicola Riopel and Brian Stewart have also been playing better of late (as have the Phantoms, who have now won six of their last eight games), but they are by no means ready for the NHL.
I will always appreciate what Michael Leighton did for the Flyers last season. Without him, there would be no legendary playoff run. The season would have likely ended in disaster, with the blow-up of a team that has instead become much stronger.
Michael, thanks for the memories.