NHL Free Agency 2012: Michael Leighton's Importance to the Philadelphia Flyers

Dan Adams@danxx5Correspondent IIIJuly 12, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 22:  Michael Leighton #49 of the Philadelphia Flyers takes a drink of water in the third period of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Buffalo Sabres during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 22, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Michael Leighton has returned from the AHL to be the Philadelphia Flyers' backup goalie next year.

Leighton was re-signed by the Flyers following the trade of former backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With Ilya Bryzgalov inked to a massive contract, it's very unlikely that Leighton will see any extended time as the starter.

But even as a backup, Leighton will have a huge impact on this team.

Leighton is 31 years old and a career journeyman. He's only been a team's starter for a brief stint, and that was with the Flyers the year they went to the Stanley Cup Final.

This means Leighton has a ton of experience as a backup. That might not seem important, but it is.

It's very difficult to accept a lesser role on a team when you think you should be starting. Sergei Bobrovsky found that out last year as he struggled to match the success he had in his rookie season.

It's also difficult to come into a game cold and play well. If the starter struggles, the backup is charged with that task and not many goalies have success doing it.

Leighton at least has experience doing it. Given Ilya Bryzgalov's inconsistency, it would be nice to have a solid presence waiting on the bench. 

Bobrovsky wanted to be the starter and probably wasn't happy about his reduced role. That sentiment was echoed by the fans as Bryzgalov's struggles continued from the early parts of the season into January and February.

Bryzgalov is a sensitive guy—not the best trait for a starting goalie in Philadelphia.  

The spotlight at times seemed to get to him, and it didn't help that fans wanted to give last year's rookie sensation a go at the starting job.

Almost no one will do that for Leighton.

Leighton is remembered by almost every Flyers fan as the guy who let in that terrible goal in overtime to give the Chicago Blackhawks the Stanley Cup on the Flyers' home ice. 

No fans really want to relive that painful memory by watching Leighton in net, so it's very likely that no fan is going to be chanting Leighton's name while Bryzgalov is struggling. 

Leighton's contract—$900,000 for one year—and age make it pretty clear management has no intentions of ever championing him as the franchise goalie, either.

Bryzgalov should feel safe, comfortable, secure. No one is coming for his job this season.

If Bryzgalov can stay focused on stopping the puck, he's a very good goalie. Leighton's signing as the backup should help him do that. 

And if the Flyers can sustain a very good goalie, the NHL had better be on notice.