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.