Brian Boucher vs. Michael Leighton: The Battle for Philadelphia Flyers Backup
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren told reporters on a conference call yesterday that he expects to carry three goalies for "the short term" when Michael Leighton is ready to be activated from long-term injured reserve.
Leighton will return to the Adirondack Phantoms for two more games this coming weekend after the Flyers were granted an extension for his conditioning assignment by Gary Bettman's office. Of course, you can read more on that here.
To make a long story short, the Flyers are going to be forced to make a roster move in order to squeeze Leighton onto the roster while complying with the league's salary cap. As it stands right now, the Flyers have no cap space, according to CapGeek.com.
Rather than continuing to speculate what potential moves Philadelphia will make when the conditioning loan expires this weekend, let's move towards the future and look at the battle for the backup for when the orange and black carry three goaltenders "for the short term."
What exactly does that mean? Essentially, it's saying there will be a goalie move at some point in the near future. Whether it's next week or a month from now, Holmgren will move either Brian Boucher or Leighton to solve his problem of an overcrowded crease.
For those wondering what happens to Sergei Bobrovsky when Leighton returns, here's your answer: nothing. Holmgren only confirmed that when he said during his conference call, "Sergei seized the opportunity, and we certainly have no intention of sending Sergei down."
Who should be the backup?
The 22-year-old Russian rookie got a chance at the starting job when Leighton went down to injury, and ran away with it. He has a .925 save percentage, a 2.21 goals against average, and leads all rookies with 14 wins, which is also third among all goalies.
And that brings us back to who should serve as Bob's backup, Boucher or Leighton?
Let's take a look at what Boucher brings to the table. At 33 years old, Boosh is a veteran who has been in the backup role in the past, and has excelled at it. In San Jose, Boucher played a huge role for the Sharks when Evgeni Nabokov suffered an injury.
In Nabokov's absence, the Woonsocket, RI, native had a .917 save percentage and a 2.18 goals against average with a 12-6-3 record along with two shutouts. After that season, he signed with the Flyers to act as the backup.
Last year, Boucher played in quite his fair share of games due to injuries to Ray Emery and Leighton. In 33 games, Boosh was 9-18-3 with a 2.76 GAA and a .899 SV%. He had a miserable start to the season, but he caught fire down the stretch when the Flyers needed him most.
When Leighton suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him from playing the final month of the regular season, Boucher took over as the guy. In doing so, he led the Flyers to clinching a playoff berth in a shootout in their final game against the New York Rangers
Then in the playoffs, Boucher carried the orange and black to a first-round win against the Devils until he suffered an injury of his own in Game 5 against the Boston Bruins in which Leighton, who was dressed for his first game since his injury, came in and took the job over.
Coming into training camp, Boucher was going to be the backup to Leighton, however that changed when it was announced that Leighton had a herniated disc in his back. Since then, Boosh stayed in the backup role, and done a great job.
He's 3-3-2 with a 2.57 GAA and a .901 SV% in eight games this season.
On the other hand, Leighton is the guy who earned the starting spot with his play in the regular season and the playoffs. He signed a two-year contract to be the team's starter, and goalie coach Jeff Reese was looking forward to working with him.
After years of moving around the NHL, Leighton seemed to find a home when the Flyers claimed him off waivers from Carolina. At 29 years old, the 6'3", 186-pound netminder played extremely well for Philadelphia.
In 27 regular season games, Leighton was 16-5-2 with a 2.48 GAA and a .918 SV%.
Professional sports is an unfair business, and players lose starting spots to injuries all the time. Heck, look at how Leighton was acquired: with an injury to Emery, Holmgren was desperate to add a goalie so he took a flier on a goalie his team scored six goals on before being waived.
For several reasons, it makes total sense for Philadelphia to keep Boucher over Leighton as the backup, and trading or waiving Leighton.
First thing's first, Boucher makes $625,000 less than Leighton. Money factors into every roster decision, and the Flyers currently have no cap space. Financially, it's for the best to keep Boosh over Leights.
If I'm doing the calculations right, if the Flyers want to keep Leighton over Boucher, they would have to move another player to boot to stay under the cap. That means losing two players for one. Doesn't compute in the common-sense department.
Next, Leighton is a confidence goalie. When he's a confident player, he's good, but when he's not, he's equally as bad. You don't gain confidence sitting on the bench for a significant amount of time.
On the other hand, Boucher has experience doing that. In fact, he's doing that right now. He's able to sit out games, and then when his number is called, able to step up and give the Flyers a chance to win. While Boosh is streaky, he certainly doesn't need all the confidence in the world to succeed.
Boucher and Leighton are not far apart in terms of pure talent. Actually, Boucher may be a more sound goalie than Leighton. Who's the better goalie? That's up to you to decide.
At the end of the day, Holmgren will have to decide who he deems is the better fit for the Flyers.
My prediction: He places Leighton on waivers unless another team steps up in a trade.
Visit the Broad Street Scoop for more of Tom's coverage of the Philadelphia Flyers, and the NHL. Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_Dougherty. E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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