Flyers stick with goaltending formula, sign Michael Leighton to two-year, $3.1 M deal

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Thumbnail image for 1-leighton.jpgMichael Leighton and Brian Boucher will be the Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltending duo for the 2010-11 season. Nick Kypreos just reported that Leighton signed a two-year, $3.1 million contract with the team. With that approximate $1.55 million cap hit, the team will spend about $2.5 million in net next season.

Year after year, the Flyers go cheap in net. This leads fans to blame their netminding when things go sour, but honestly, I think it’s a strategy that allows the team to produce consistently competitive squads. Sure, the ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup, but Philly has been arguably the second most successful Eastern Conference team behind the Pittsburgh Penguins the last three seasons. They have one Cup finals appearance, one Conference finals appearance and the only Eastern team to beat them is their cross-state rivals.

Philadelphia follows the Detroit Red Wings model of team building in that they sacrifice paying a goalie $5 million on the hopes that he’ll start 70 games a year and provide stellar work. While big-name guys such as Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury failed to pass the second round, borderline starters such as Leighton and Antti Niemi saw great success. Why? Because they had better teams playing in front of them and … perhaps, just maybe, the gap between an elite starter and a good goalie is rapidly closing.

The Flyers now have more than $9.87 million in cap space and only one significant free agent (RFA Braydon Coburn) to re-sign. I’ve pointed out that the team will have some tough choices to make in 2011 thanks to the expiring contracts of Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and Ville Leino, but the team can enjoy some serious salary cap flexibility this summer. I didn’t put them in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes, but perhaps they could raise some eyebrows and land him tomorrow.

Either way, you might as well get that broken record out again. Many sports writers will write the same basic “weakness: goalies” section during season previews time, just with Michael Leighton’s name in the place of Ray Emery.* Yet that supposed Achilles Heel gives the team enough cap space to put some very competitive teams on the ice. I might be in the minority here, but I think the Flyers are taking a wise gamble.

If nothing else, the annual “Will the Flyers get a goalie?” trade deadline talk is always fun, right?

* – And don’t get me wrong, I might even be in that group, especially since the team could be well-stocked with forward and defensive depth. Too bad Leighton never ate any insects to settle a bet, though.