Michael Leighton

Is Michael Leighton Philadelphia’s forgotten goalie?

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Just one summer ago, Michael Leighton seemingly came out of nowhere (OK, Carolina) to boost the Philadelphia Flyers to a spirited run to the Stanley Cup finals. Sure, the Chicago Blackhawks made him look silly at times, but there weren’t a lot of goalies who shined against that deep and talented team – the ‘Hawks didn’t face elimination one time in their championship run. If nothing else, it seemed like Leighton earned the right to fight for a starting job in goalie-starved Philly.

During that same summer, Leighton opted for back surgery, an injury-related moment that might go down with some of the most ill-timed in sports.* As you probably know by now, Sergei Bobrovsky seemingly jumped about a season or two ahead of his development schedule to become the Flyers’ surprise No. 1 goalie while Brian Boucher represented a steady backup. By the time Leighton seemed reasonably healthy again, it was too late. He wouldn’t serve as much more than fodder for waiver wire speculation during last season, with this paltry run of appearances in 2010-11.

Regular season: 1-0-0 with four goals allowed on 36 shots. (1 game played)

Playoffs: 0-1 with four goals allowed on 29 shots. (2 games played)

The only thing that was particularly memorable about his 2010-11 campaign (on the ice, at least) came when he lasted one period against the Buffalo Sabres when the Flyers were facing elimination. (Philly’s electric offense bailed themselves out, but not before Leighton looked really bad.)

As bad as things were for Leighton in 2010-11, the forecast isn’t looking that much better for next season. That’s the subject of Chuck Gormley’s piece today, as he rightly points out that Leighton will probably get lost in the shuffle thanks to Bobrovsky’s higher status and the high-profile addition of Ilya Bryzgalov. Gormley also points out that the Flyers signed minor league veteran Jason Bacashihua to a one-year contract, so Leighton isn’t even guaranteed an AHL starting job. It’s hard not to read Leighton’s comments as anything but glum.

Leighton said he continues to do rehab on his hip by swimming and walking sideways in a pool and believes his injury woes are behind him. He just isn’t sure what lies ahead.

“Last year was disappointing, frustrating — there are lots of words for it,” he said. “It was definitely a setback for me, but now I’m kind of back where I started. I don’t know what’s going to happen here. There are quite a few goalies.

“If there’s a trade somewhere or there’s going to be two veteran guys (Leighton and Bacashihua) in the minors, I don’t know. I just want to come to camp, work hard, and wherever it gets me I’ll accept it.

“I don’t think it’s worth asking for (a trade). I’m sure (Holmgren) has an idea, but he’s not going to tell me where I’ll be. I just need to get healthy and hope it works out that I get to stay here, play another year and go from there.”

Perhaps Leighton will receive a chance to prove himself by the same route that doomed him last year: an injury to one of the Flyers’ top goalies. With a one-way contract, Leighton would need to clear waivers (if he doesn’t make the big club to start the season, obviously). Aside from a low-value trade, that scenario would provide the most likely scenario for Leighton to receive another chance.

If nothing else, the guy probably deserves another shot at an NHL job – even a backup role – somewhere. He might just have to wait until next season to get it.

* – Two NFL quarterback injuries come to mind as the most memorable recent examples: whatever ailment plagued Trent Green and allowed Kurt Warner to rule the world for a few seasons with the St. Louis Rams and Drew Bledsoe’s injury that opened the door for Tom Brady.

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 15:  Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues tends goal during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 15, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues are going back to the guy who got them this far.

Brian Elliott will start in goal tomorrow in San Jose.

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock made the announcement Tuesday, the day after Jake Allen allowed four goals on just 25 shots in a 6-3 loss that put St. Louis on the brink of elimination.

Allen also started Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. The Blues won that contest, 6-3, with Allen stopping 31 of 34 shots.

But those were the only two games that Allen has started this postseason. That’s because Elliott had been mostly excellent before getting yanked in Game 3. His save percentage in these playoffs is .925, compared to Allen’s .897.

Hitchcock said he hopes the break has allowed Elliott to “reset” after the “mental drain” of starting the first 17 games of the playoff.

“We needed the jolt from Jake, we got it to get back into the series,” Hitchcock told reporters, per the Post-Dispatch. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win yesterday but this has been Brian’s playoffs and we’d like him to finish the job.”

Related: A ‘no-brainer’ — Elliott will start Game 7 for Blues

B’s re-sign Kevan Miller: four years, $10 million

Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) is upended as he chases the puck against Florida Panthers left wing Jiri Hudler (24) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Kevan Miller has cashed in on a career year.

And a fortuitous confluence of circumstances.

Miller, who posted personal highs in games played (71), goals (five) and points (18) last season, has scored a four-year, $10 million extension from the Bruins, per TSN.

That works out to a $2.5M average annual cap hit through 2020.

Miller, 28, scored the payday after taking a while to establish himself at the NHL level. Undrafted out of Vermont, he spent considerable time with AHL Providence before becoming a regular in Boston last season.

Despite those aforementioned career highs, it was an erratic season for Miller.

Often playing alongside Zdeno Chara on Boston’s top defensive pair, he was criticized for making mistakes in his own zone and struggled with consistency, something he lamented at the end of the year.

“I think it was frustrating,” Miller said, per the Boston Herald. “I wanted to be more consistent throughout the season.

“There were some ups and downs coming back off surgery last season and this year I was trying to find my feet initially, and toward the end I started to play pretty well.”

In Miller’s defense, he was miscast as a top-pairing blueliner — duly noted by CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty, who wrote the following:

Miller is a perfectly fine and rugged bottom-pairing defenseman that brings toughness, and can survive well enough against other team’s bottom two forward lines.

But he has struggled all season when charged with stopping the other team’s best offensive players, and it has really started coming to a head over the last month.

As such, today’s extension may have caught some by surprise — like those at the Boston Globe, who wondered if Miller was “destined” for free agency, suggesting he “will draw interest” on the open market.

But others might not be all that shocked.

Miller plays on a Boston defense that’s been thinned over the last two years — by the Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton trades, specifically — and doesn’t have many capable replacements at the ready.

Miller’s not great, but he had leverage. He knew it, his agent knew it and, based on the term and the price tag, the Bruins knew it too.

Related: Kevan Miller is not the problem for the Bruins, but he does illustrate the problem

Oilers ‘owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time’: Chiarelli

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton Oilers attends the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The more Peter Chiarelli talks, the more anticipation grows for a big trade.

The Oilers’ general manager spoke to Sportsnet yesterday at the Memorial Cup, where he was asked once again about the possibility of dealing the fourth overall draft pick for some NHL-ready help.

“Would I look to move it? We want to win. I took the job in Edmonton to win, so as I said earlier, we’ll look at all options,” said Chiarelli. “There’s some pretty good players that are going to be available at four but we may look to move down and still use a pick to get an asset as part of a larger deal. We owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time and we’re going to look at all options to allow us to do that.”

The number one area that the Oilers need to upgrade is the defense. So if, for example, a player like Tyson Barrie were made available by the Colorado Avalanche, Chiarelli would no doubt be interested. Ditto for Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen, or whoever else could be in play this offseason.

It won’t be easy, but if Chiarelli can add a capable, young top-4 defenseman (arguably the most valuable commodity in the NHL) and perhaps a veteran too, all of a sudden things look a lot more promising on the back end. Remember that Darnell Nurse is still only 21, Oscar Klefbom just 22. And even if the Oilers move down in the draft, they could still add another d-man to a mix that also includes youngsters Brandon Davidson, Adam Clendening, Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle.

If, on the other hand, Chiarelli fails to upgrade the defense, then the Oilers may struggle once again next season.

Hence, the urgency to get something done now, for a fan base that hasn’t experienced playoff excitement in a decade.

After so much losing, there’s no selling patience anymore in Edmonton.

Related‘There’s a real legitimate chance’ that Oilers trade fourth overall pick

People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One
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The Florida Panthers’ managerial shakeup continued this week with the firing of their director of player personnel, Tom Luce.

Luce had been with the club since 2002. According to his bio, he had “been responsible for the Panthers drafting notable players, including Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Dmitry Kulikov.”

The firing of Luce was particularly noteworthy, since it came just days after Dale Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey operations. That move was sold as a way for Tallon to do more of what he liked (scouting), while handing off other responsibilities (contracts, salary cap, etc.) to new GM Tom Rowe and his young assistants, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.

But not all in the Florida media are buying, apparently.

From Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde:

I can retire now. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen teams fire everyone after bad, average and even mildly disappointing seasons. But I’d never seen a team replace people who created a record-setting season that buoyed the franchise’s future.

Until the Florida Panthers over the last few days.

Hyde goes on to question the Panthers’ new, analytics-focused direction. (If that direction sounds similar, it’s because the Arizona Coyotes are taking the same route.)

His column finishes like this:

This should be an offseason of great hope for the Panthers. Instead, it’s now weighed down with a question of recent days. It’s not what Tallon’s diminished role is or who Rowe is.

The question starts here: Does Vinnie Viola know what he’s doing?

And that’s a fair question to ask of any owner. Especially a new one.

That being said, it’s also fair to question how much Tallon and Luce should be credited for the Panthers’ turnaround. After all, since Tallon was hired in 2010, Florida has had the first overall draft pick (Ekblad), the second overall pick (Barkov), and two third overall picks (Gudbranson, Huberdeau). Yes, there have been a few savvy picks — Vincent Trocheck in the third round stands out — and a few good additions via trade. But really, with all the blue-chip talent they’ve been gifted, making the playoffs this year was the least they should have expected.

“It’s a great game, but a tough business sometimes,” Rowe said of the firings, per the Sun Sentinel. “The fans came out in big numbers and it was awesome. We made the playoffs and that’s good. But at the end of the day, I didn’t think we had enough punch in the playoffs and I don’t think we gave [coach Gerard Gallant] enough options to get past the Islanders on our third and fourth lines.”

Regardless of where you stand on what’s happening in Florida, you can’t deny it’s all quite reminiscent of the summer of 2009, when Tallon was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks, replaced by the much-younger Stan Bowman.

Here’s a column that was written by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Morrissey after that decision was made:

Wirtz and McDonough wanted to have their own crew in place. Fair enough. They don’t even want a suggestion of the mustiness of the Bob Pulford era.

But let’s try to remember Tallon played a huge role in building a team that surprised a lot of people by getting to the Western Conference finals last season. How it came to be that they chose Stan Bowman over Tallon is no secret. There had been rumblings for most of the year that Tallon would be out.

Yes, anybody could have picked superstars-in-training Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But let’s remember that anybody could have picked Michael Jordan in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft. The teams with the first two picks didn’t.

The Blackhawks, of course, won the Stanley Cup the next year, a month after Tallon was introduced as the new GM in Florida.