For the last eight weeks, the biggest question mark surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers has been who’s going to be the starting netminder for the defending Eastern Conference champions this upcoming 2010-11 season.
To be realistic, the question has been more often asked by the fans and the local sports media than the Flyers organization as they knew who was going to be their starting goalie come Oct. 7 at Pittsburgh.
His name was Michael Leighton.
The Flyers re-signed Leighton on the eve of free agency to a two-year contract extension, which ,at the time, was a sign that general manager Paul Holmgren believed that he already had a No. 1 goalie under team control.
But you know with the age of the Internet that wasn’t enough to stop the speculation from continueing to this very day that the Flyers were still looking for a goalie to replace Leighton as the go-to guy.
Former Dallas Stars goaltender Marty Turco was believed to be the twinkle in Holmgren’s eye and it was reported that he had offered Turco a three-year, $6 million deal that the Turco camp turned down.
That offer was never confirmed, but rather denied by the Flyers front office every time the question was raised.
Turco ended up signing with the Chicago Blackhawks on Aug. 2 after rookie starter Antti Niemi was awarded $2.75 million in his arbitration case—a price that forced Chicago to decide to keep either Niklas Hjalmarsson or Niemi.
They opted for the defenseman, and a cheap veteran who saved the team nearly $1.5 million.
With Niemi now without a gig, bloggers pondered the idea of Niemi as the Flyers goalie. It makes sense, didn’t it? If you can’t beat him, sign him.
It didn’t to Holmgren, who released a statement to CSNPhilly.com that he has no interest in pursuing Niemi: another stone cold sign that Leighton earned his job despite a very poor showing in the Stanley Cup Final against the Blackhawks.
For the general public though, fans are left a little puzzled that the Flyers are going to roll the dice with the journeyman Leighton when they have a chance to acquire the goalie who beat them in the Cup.
While no one can say that Niemi was the poster boy for brilliant goaltending, the 26-year-old does have a ring while Leighton does not. In the Finnish sensation, you will get a young goalie with Patrick Roy potential.
That’s what people are making Niemi out to be, at least from the fan side of the spectrum.
I am by no means Leighton’s biggest supporter as many of those who have spoken with me via Twitter, Facebook and/or text message know my true feelings on Leighton. Long story short, it’s that he’s not a starting goalie.
With that said, Leighton is the Flyers guy for the coming campaign, and I’m alright with that because he did a good enough job when the defense consisting of Ryan Parent, Oskars Bartulis and Lukas Krajicek as the third pairing got the job done.
The Flyers have added Andreaj Meszaros, Sean O’Donnell and Matt Walker to the team’s defensive core, replacing the three aforementioned scrubs leading many to believe Philly has the best defense in the league.
If Homer’s plan pans out as planned, Leighton should have to face 20 shots per game.
For those two reasons alone, I’m totally set on giving Leighton a chance to prove me wrong.
Supporters say give goalie coach Jeff Reese a full offseason’s work with Leighton, and he may be able to help with Leights’ flaws.
Like his five-hole.
I’ll regress to say this, as much as I don’t think Leighton is a No. 1 goaltender at the NHL level, I believe he’s good enough that the Flyers can win with him. He’s average at best playing in front of an elite defense.
If goalies like Chris Osgood and Niemi can win the Cup, why can’t Leighton?
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