NHL approves Flyers’ request to extend Michael Leighton’s rehab stint; team plans on going with three goalies soon

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.

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    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.