The Philadelphia Flyers have been to goalies what George Clooney is to beautiful women. The cast of characters seems to change on a whim, yet the results are often surprisingly productive regardless of whomever dons the pads.
(Um, not to say that Clooney’s ladies need pads. I’m talking about goalie pads, folks. Moving on.)
Last season, the Flyers’ goalies dropped like flies to the point that their two mainstay netminders ending up being journeyman goalie Brian Boucher and Carolina Hurricanes outcast Michael Leighton. Each goalie had his moments during the Flyers’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup finals, though Leighton seemed to shine the brightest because he helped Philly come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins in the conference finals.
Such a run helped Leighton earn another contract with the team, yet holding true to the Flyers’ unending soap opera in net, he ended up needing back surgery at the worst time – right before this season was about to begin.
His injury opened the door for little known Russian rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, who took advantage of that opportunity with resounding aplomb. “Bob” sports a 14-4-2 record with a sparkling 92.5 save percentage and fantastic 2.21 GAA. Boucher hasn’t been quite as strong in net, but is still a solid backup at a low price point.
Which brings us back to Leighton, suddenly the odd man out in Philly because of that back injury and Bobrovsky’s unexpected climb into the Calder Trophy race. The Flyers must soon confront what exactly to do with their big should-be starter, but the good news is that they bought themselves an extra week to figure something out.
For the last six days, Leighton has been trying to get his legs underneath him via a conditioning stint with the Adirondack Phantoms. Neither Leighton nor the Flyers felt that he was ready for NHL action after his two appearances with the Phantoms (0-2, 87.5 save percentage and 3.55 GAA), so Flyers GM Paul Holmgren asked for an extension on his rehab assignment. The NHL approved that extension, according to Stephen Whyno of the Philadelphia Sports Daily.
Per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, a player can spend at most six days or three games on a conditioning assignment unless an extension is filed and approved. That happened Monday, so Leighton will get to play two more American Hockey League games for the Phantoms before the Flyers face a decision.
Leighton said despite lingering pain from a nerve issue in his foot that he felt good about how the conditioning stint went. But he met with Holmgren and goalie coach Jeff Reese Monday morning and they decided it wouldn’t be smart to bring him back at less than 100 percent.
“I don’t wanna come back if I’m not 100 percent,” Leighton said Monday. “I think in a way I could come back right now, but I probably won’t be 100 percent.”
When Leighton is ready to return, the Flyers will have to make a corresponding roster move to fit him under the salary cap. But Holmgren said that move will likely not be getting rid of a goalie, which means Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Leighton would all be on the roster.
The Flyers will likely have to make an uncomfortable move or two to accommodate Leighton’s $1.55 million cap hit and then would need to deal with the added discomfort of rolling with three goalies. Still, deciding which of 2-3 competent goalies to start is an “issue” few expected Philadelphia to deal with, so beggars cannot be choosers. I guess.