Michael Leighton the Answer to Goaltending Question of Philadelphia Flyers?

Bryan HassettContributor IIIFebruary 22, 2012

No Flyers' goalie has played better under Peter Laviolette than Michael Leighton.
No Flyers' goalie has played better under Peter Laviolette than Michael Leighton.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Another Philadelphia Flyers game, another underwhelming performance in goal by a Flyers goalie. Despite the win, Ilya Bryzgalov was shown up by a stellar performance in net by the Winnipeg Jets’ Ondrej Pavelec.

Following their game against the Jets, the Flyers now rank 27th in goals allowed per game and 28th in team save percentage. All of this, despite the fact that they have allowed the seventh-fewest shots against per game.

The Flyers simply have not been getting strong goaltending this season. Bobrovsky has allowed 21 goals in the equivalent of four games this February, while Bryzgalov’s save percentage continues to hover around the Mendoza line of NHL goalies (.900). Beyond that, Bryzgalov has twice in his last two starts whiffed on routine glove saves that have led to back-breaking goals.

With the NHL trade deadline approaching, there seems to be a prevailing thought that the Flyers should at least explore the goalie market. Evgeni Nabokov may be available as the New York Islanders fall from the playoff race, the Minnesota Wild could be willing to move Josh Harding and Jonathan Bernier always seems to be on the trading block. But it’s possible the Flyers may not have to go farther than upstate New York for their solution between the pipes.

Michael Leighton was, as recently as December of last season, considered a viable NHL starting goalie. His $1.5 million cap hit kept him last year’s cap-strapped team, along with Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher’s fairly strong play. This year, however, the team has a greater amount of immediate cap room and the goaltending has been, suffice to say, considerably less strong.

As the cap is no longer a concern (the Flyers only need to free up about $700,000 to make room), Leighton deserves a shot at taking over between the pipes. While his numbers in the AHL are down this year, he was incredibly strong for Adirondack last year, and, at the age of 31, is still in his prime as a goaltender and should be for the next few years. Beyond that, his style fits the team better than Bryzgalov or Bobrovsky.

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While Bobrovsky and Bryzgalov tend to play more of a hybrid style and scramble within the net, a la Martin Brodeur, Leighton plays a straight butterfly style, relying upon positioning and rebound control rather than athleticism. While he doesn’t move laterally terribly well, he makes the routine saves. And that’s what the Flyers need right now.

The Flyers defense hasn’t been All-Star-caliber this year. However, a goaltender who makes routine saves and does not leave dangerous rebounds sitting in the slot or right on the doorstep can be a welcoming and steadying influence on a defense. It can also allow the defensive scheme to be centered on a predictable goaltender.

The biggest upshot of using Leighton is that he comes no frills attached. The team has no investment in him at the moment and, sink or shine, he likely is gone after the season. So no matter what happens, the team could easily move forward with Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky next season. Leighton acts as basically a cost-free rental.

Now, here comes the reality part: Leighton, aside from his moment in the sun with the Flyers in 2010, has been a mediocre NHL goaltender. The chances of him being the team’s savior are small.

However, he stabilized their goaltending situation once. Maybe he could do it again.


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