Leighton due back to Flyers unless he's claimed off waivers

Posted: April 06, 2011

OTTAWA - No time is a good time, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said.

For now, the Flyers wait. Yesterday at noon, the Flyers set a 24-hour timer on their watch that will let them know at noon today whether goaltender Michael Leighton is still a part of their organization.

The Flyers placed Leighton on re-entry waivers yesterday, opening him up to a claim from 29 other NHL teams that can nab him at half-price for next season, with the Flyers paying the other half of his $1.6 million salary.

Leighton has spent the season with the Adirondack Phantoms, the Flyers' AHL affiliate. If he is not claimed, Holmgren said he expects him to be in net for at least one of the Flyers' final two games against Buffalo and the New York Islanders as a tuneup before the playoffs begin next Thursday. Leighton would likely join the Flyers for practice today.

"Whether it was a week ago or it's next week, I'm really not sure when the time is right," Holmgren said. "All I know is that he's played only one game in the regular season and since he's been in Adirondack, he's played very well and his numbers are strong."

Either way, Leighton would not be available to the Flyers in the playoffs - in case of injury - if he did not first clear re-entry waivers. For the Flyers, Leighton is an insurance policy behind Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher - an insurance policy with 14 games of playoff experience from last season.

For Leighton, it is a win-win situation. He either would be added to the Flyers' playoff roster for the stretch run, getting him out of Glens Falls, N.Y., or he would likely be part of a claiming team's plans for next season.

If claimed, Leighton would not be eligible to any other team in the playoffs, however, since he was not on their 50-man roster before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.

Leighton did not respond to a request from the Daily News yesterday seeking comment.

The Flyers felt it would be easier to get Leighton through waivers now than in an emergency situation in the playoffs when any team - including one not in the playoffs - could block them with a claim.

After signing Leighton to a 2-year, $3.1 million deal last June, many expected him to be the Flyers' Opening Night starter. Instead, Leighton aggravated a back injury in a preseason game and had surgery to repair a herniated disc in October.

After rehabbing on the long-term injured list, Leighton appeared in a game for the Flyers in Los Angeles on Dec. 30 but allowed four goals. The Flyers waived him on Jan. 3 - at full price - and he was sent to the Phantoms the next day.

Since then, Leighton has helped revived a last-place Adirondack team with a 14-12-3 record, five shutouts, a .926 save percentage and a 2.22 goals-against average. That gives Leighton five shutouts more than the Flyers have this season as a team.

Holmgren said yesterday's move wasn't meant to slight the play of Bobrovsky or Boucher, even though it could be taken as a slap in the face for the veteran Boucher, who has shown he is more than capable as a steady backup.

"It's not going to mess with anything, and they know that," Holmgren said. "Both goalies are aware of the situation. No one is stepping on anyone's toes or anything like that."

There was some reported concern yesterday that Leighton's herniated disc has not fully healed since surgery. Holmgren did not deny that, which might affect another team's willingness to take a flier on Leighton.

"I think it's fair to say that he is on a maintenance program that he keeps up with," Holmgren said. "But it hasn't affected him playing."

That also could show that the Flyers really don't have any interest in losing Leighton, not only as an insurance piece, but as someone that they would still have to pay next year even though they would not have him.

Perhaps the most telling, though, is a tweet from Phantoms beat reporter Tim McManus from the Glens Falls Post-Star: "I've seen Michael Leighton do some crazy, acrobatic things the last week. If his back is limiting him, I want the same injury."

Regardless, Leighton leaves the AHL riding a 135-minute goal-less streak after back-to-back shutouts. In his 9-year professional career, Leighton has always been a solid AHL goaltender. He's about to answer more questions at the game's biggest level - this season or next.

Local honors

Congratulations are in order for two local teams - the 16U Old York Road Raiders, of Elkins Park; and the 18U Hatfield Ice Dogs, of Hatfield - that captured USA Hockey National Championships last weekend at the Tier II level. They are the first national titles for the Atlantic District since 1999 . . . West Chester native Matt Campanale, who starred at Malvern Prep and recently completed his career at the University of New Hampshire, was recalled by the New York Islanders yesterday and is expected to make his NHL debut tonight in Boston.

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

www.philly.com/FrequentFlyers.

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