“Up and down” doesn’t begin to describe Michael Leighton’s career over the last two seasons.
After earning a shot as Carolina’s back-up goaltender for 2008-09 (thanks to a great year in the American League in 2007-08), Leighton had a shaky start to 2009-10. He was subsequently waived by the Hurricanes, claimed by the Flyers, and had a Cinderella-style run between the pipes for Philadelphia. It was enough to earn a two-year contract from the Flyers (Kent Wilson’s thoughts on that contract here).
Toss in some injury woes, and Leighton found himself back in the minors after a single NHL game this year, the casualty of strong play from Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher.
In other words: multiple visits to the waiver wire, a new contract, a major injury, and a trip to the Stanley Cup finals as a starting goaltender. It’s been a wild ride, and today’s placement on re-entry waivers is a smallish footnote in the grand scheme of things.
The way I see it, there are three significant points worth bringing up about this transaction:
- 1. If Leighton is claimed, he will not be able to play again this season. Any team claiming him would have to stash him on their NHL roster for the rest of the year, and then play him next season.
- 2. As with all re-entry waiver claims, the claiming team only needs to pay half of Leighton’s salary and only deals with half the cap hit. The remainder would be charged against the Flyers.
- 3. Leighton’s been very, very good in the AHL.
I agree with Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey on the Flyers’ angle here: Leighton provides the Flyers with some valuable insurance in net. Bobrovsky and Boucher have both had strong seasons, but neither has a long track record of NHL success as a starter.
The real question here is the angle of other teams. Leighton was a question mark when the Flyers sent him down the first time: a fringe NHL’er coming off serious injury. His play in the AHL has presumably helped to ease fears that he would be ill-prepared for NHL duty; his 0.926 save percentage towers above the other goaltenders in Adirondack. Perhaps the best measure of that dominance is a simple shutout count: in 30 games, Leighton has five shutouts; the other goaltenders have combined for a single shutout in 50 games.
Is he good enough to be an NHL backup next season? Absolutely. Are there teams out there that would relish the idea of making the Flyers absorb half of his cap hit? Again, absolutely. With five or six games left in the season, is it practical for a team to stash Leighton on their NHL roster despite being unable to play him? I think so.
Fortunately for the Flyers, the goaltender market is oversaturated each and every summer, and I suspect that will be enough for Leighton to slip through.