Leighton finds three is a crowd with Flyers

Posted: January 04, 2011

IN PROFESSIONAL sports, there are no guarantees - even when you sign your name on the dotted line.

No, Michael Leighton will not be coming to a soup kitchen near you any time soon after signing a 2-year deal with the Flyers in the offseason for $3.1 million, in part for his work in helping carry the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals last June.

All the deal got him was solid health insurance for a herniated disk in his lower back, a few months rehabilitation and a chance to stop 36 pucks last Thursday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

This morning, Leighton is back where he started last December, on the waiver wire and looking for a new home. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, in a move in which the timing is more surprising than the event, announced that Leighton was plucked off the roster and available on waivers as of noon yesterday, clearing the team's three-goalie logjam.

Days like this are the reason Leighton - who has been waived by Anaheim, Nashville, Carolina and the Flyers (twice) and traded by Buffalo and Montreal - has chosen to keep his family's home base in Ontario and not get too attached to a city.

Barring an unforeseen slip in the waiver wire, Leighton has likely played his last game in a Flyers uniform - despite racking up a 17-5-2 record in the regular season and 8-3 in the playoffs.

"There's really two reasons for doing this,'' Holmgren said. "One is it's in the best interest of the Flyers at this time. And number two, it's in the best interest of Michael. We need to get Michael playing a higher level and unfortunately when you have a goaltender situation like we do, it's hard to do right now."

Leighton is available to be claimed by all 29 teams until noon today. If he is not claimed, he will be reassigned to the Phantoms in Adirondack, where the Flyers will be responsible for his salary.

If he is claimed by another NHL team, the Flyers are not responsible for any part of his salary.

With a questionable injury history, a spotty performance in his first game back last week with four goals against, and an unproven track record, few teams would be willing to take a stab at $1.55 million per season.

The New York Islanders, who dealt starter Dwayne Roloson to Tampa Bay on Saturday, are second in the waiver pecking order to New Jersey. Oft-injured Rick DiPietro went down with an injury last night in Calgary, which could pique the interest of Isles general manager Garth Snow in Leighton.

Where it gets tricky for the Flyers, who wouldn't mind having Leighton stashed in Adirondack as an insurance policy against Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky, is that Leighton would be unlikely to make it back through re-entry waivers if he was recalled.

A team in the playoff hunt or with a goaltending injury could claim Leighton for half the price, with the Flyers taking on the other half. With valuable playoff experience, Leighton would be an attractive asset at $775,000 - much closer to his actual value.

"You're always rolling the dice when you put a player on waivers," Holmgren said. "I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. A lot of it depends on at that time, if there are other teams who are having injury issues or whatever issues with their goaltending situation. Right now we're dealing with today and this is the best move that we can make for our team."

Few saw this coming so soon after Leighton made his first start of the season.

Undoubtedly, the Flyers' recent West Coast swing forced Holmgren's hand. The Flyers had limited practice time, days' worth of travel and not enough nets to keep each goaltender sharp. If Leighton had pitched a shutout in Los Angeles - or Boucher had tossed up a stinker in Detroit on Sunday - the story would have been different.

"I think we all believed [Leighton] would be rusty," Holmgren said. "It has more to do with how the other guys have played through the first 39 games. I think they've both played well and they both deserve to continue to play.

"It's more about practice time and preparing everybody to play to do their jobs. It's very difficult with three goalies in a practice situation. Somebody is always getting the [short] end of the stick. This is a better way of getting everybody involved and playing. I think this gives everybody a chance to continue to work on their game and hopefully Brian can stay at the level he's at and Sergei can continue to develop, and we can get Michael up to speed."

Holmgren admitted he talked to a few teams about a trade for Leighton but found no takers. Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman, who has made two deals with Holmgren since taking over last summer, chose Roloson over Leighton likely after watching Leighton start last Thursday.

If anything, yesterday's decision is less of an indictment of Leighton and more an acknowledgement that for the first time since 2004, Boucher is once again a starting goalie in the NHL. The hope is that Boucher, who is 8-4-2 with a .917 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average, can continue to mentor a quick-learning Bobrovsky.

"I don't think there's any question that Brian's played extremely well for us," Holmgren said. "His attitude has been tremendous - he's just taken everything a day at a time and gone about his own business, and that's all you can do. He's been the ultimate pro, and we're certainly pleased with how he's played."

Leighton, meanwhile, will pack his bags. Since he arrived in December 2009, fans were cautiously optimistic as he started his stint in Philly with an 8-1-1 record. Through it all, most were waiting for Cinderella's other shoe to drop. It finally did.

ON-ICE

Stat watch:

36: Number of shots Michael Leighton has faced in the NHL this season after signing a 2-year, $3.1 million deal in the offseason, earning him $48,437.50 for each of his 32 saves against the Kings last Thursday.

70: The Flyers' penalty-kill percentage over the last eight games, going 19-for-27. They did not allow a power-play goal in just two of those eight contests.

5: Number of points for Jeff Carter in the last four games, which included goals in three straight games, and two assists.

The week ahead:

at New Jersey, Thursday, 7 o'clock

The Flyers will continue their run of five straight road games in Newark, N.J., with the beginning of a home-and-home with the Devils. Despite claims by new head coach Jacques Lemaire that the playoffs are still in plain sight, the Devils (10-26-2) entered last night's action trailing the Islanders for 14th place in the Eastern Conference by six points. John MacLean was never given a real chance to succeed as coach in New Jersey. The Flyers are 9-1-1 against the Atlantic Division this season.

vs. New Jersey, Saturday, 1 o'clock

The Flyers are 3-0-2 in afternoon games this season, earning eight of a possible 10 points in those matchups. New Jersey is just 4-15-0 on the road this season. Ilya Kovalchuk has had an embarrassing season. He has just nine goals and 11 assists in 37 games after signing a $100 million deal in the offseason.

Phantoms phile:

The Phantoms capped off a New Year's weekend sweep with a win in Rochester on Sunday evening, improving to 4-2 under new coach Joe Paterson. Defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon had a scary moment in Saturday's win over Albany, when he was knocked out cold with a hard right from the Devils' Dan Kelly in a fight. Video of the fight can be seen at http://bit.ly/hzvzCG. Bourdon was unconscious before he even hit the ice. He sat out Sunday's win as a precaution.

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For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.

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