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Flyers stick with goaltending formula, sign Michael Leighton to two-year, $3.1 M deal

Jun 30, 2010, 4:40 PM EDT

Thumbnail image for 1-leighton.jpgMichael Leighton and Brian Boucher will be the Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltending duo for the 2010-11 season. Nick Kypreos just reported that Leighton signed a two-year, $3.1 million contract with the team. With that approximate $1.55 million cap hit, the team will spend about $2.5 million in net next season.

Year after year, the Flyers go cheap in net. This leads fans to blame their netminding when things go sour, but honestly, I think it’s a strategy that allows the team to produce consistently competitive squads. Sure, the ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup, but Philly has been arguably the second most successful Eastern Conference team behind the Pittsburgh Penguins the last three seasons. They have one Cup finals appearance, one Conference finals appearance and the only Eastern team to beat them is their cross-state rivals.

Philadelphia follows the Detroit Red Wings model of team building in that they sacrifice paying a goalie $5 million on the hopes that he’ll start 70 games a year and provide stellar work. While big-name guys such as Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury failed to pass the second round, borderline starters such as Leighton and Antti Niemi saw great success. Why? Because they had better teams playing in front of them and … perhaps, just maybe, the gap between an elite starter and a good goalie is rapidly closing.

The Flyers now have more than $9.87 million in cap space and only one significant free agent (RFA Braydon Coburn) to re-sign. I’ve pointed out that the team will have some tough choices to make in 2011 thanks to the expiring contracts of Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and Ville Leino, but the team can enjoy some serious salary cap flexibility this summer. I didn’t put them in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes, but perhaps they could raise some eyebrows and land him tomorrow.

Either way, you might as well get that broken record out again. Many sports writers will write the same basic “weakness: goalies” section during season previews time, just with Michael Leighton’s name in the place of Ray Emery.* Yet that supposed Achilles Heel gives the team enough cap space to put some very competitive teams on the ice. I might be in the minority here, but I think the Flyers are taking a wise gamble.

If nothing else, the annual “Will the Flyers get a goalie?” trade deadline talk is always fun, right?

* – And don’t get me wrong, I might even be in that group, especially since the team could be well-stocked with forward and defensive depth. Too bad Leighton never ate any insects to settle a bet, though.

  1. JCHFlyers - Jun 30, 2010 at 4:56 PM

    By and large, I agree with the move and the logic in this article. Definitely prefer this set-up than overpaying somebody like Nabakov.

  2. TG - Jun 30, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    I like this move as well. Leighton and Boucher both played very well last year. Available free-agent goaltenders may have been marginally better, but way more expensive. The money is better spent to improve the third defensive pairing.

  3. Flyered... - Jun 30, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    Leighton has been a journeyman netminder his entire career. He played very well in the playoffs overall but let in a number of soft goals (especially in the last series).. If the Flyers had had a star goalie they would now be the Stanley cup Champions. I don’t like this move… This will help with the cap but not in getting a cup. Status quo never wins cups..

  4. grimjack - Jun 30, 2010 at 10:22 PM

    “If the Flyers had had a star goalie they would now be the Stanley cup Champions”
    And yet, as the writer pointed out, the teams with “star” goalies didn’t win the Stanley Cup this year, did they? Nabakov? Zero Cups. Luongo? Zero Stanley Cups. Tim Thomas? Sat on the bench. Turco? THe list goes on. Yet somehow Nabakov is going to come to Philly and win the cup. He couldn’t beat Chicago either. The Flyers need to keep upgrading defense, and maybe invest in a little more speed from their forwards. Letting a faster Hawks team in on odd man rushes did them in. That and if you are only going to take 6 shots in the first two periods, you better make sure they go in. Spend your money on defense.

  5. Leighton - Jun 30, 2010 at 10:35 PM

    Everyone seems to talk about the soft goals, but not the complete defensive breakdowns, or open net opportunities missed. He lost to the to the Cup winners, is that such a bad thing? Leighton played well in the regular season AND in the playoffs. It was a well deserved contract.
    I’m tired of people wanting to overpay for a goalie. Look at the goalies in the Cup Finals since the lock out.
    Cam Ward (rookie), Dwayne Roloson/Ty Conklin, Giguare, Emery, Osgood 2x, Fleury 2x, Neimi, and Leighton.
    Fleury is the best on that list, but still inconsistant. Leighton is good until a prospect can be groomed into a starter.

  6. stonelamb - Jul 1, 2010 at 12:39 AM

    i’m really happy to hear the Flyers signed Leighton. the management and fans always seem to blame the goalie when things go wrong. Leighton was a big reason the Flyers made it as far as they did. I’ve been a Flyers fan since i was a kid watching the Broad Street Bullies get the cup, and since then they have seemed to treat their goalies with as much importance as the equipment manager (no offense to equipment managers). Leighton now has the opportunity to help take the Flyers all the way. i think he can do it with this great team in front of him! they were really impressive this year–management and players!

  7. Valley Chief - Jul 1, 2010 at 1:37 AM

    James O’Brien could not be any more wrong. Is this your first time around the block Jimmy? The Flyers are going to buy out, waive or trade Brian Boucher now that Michael Leighton has re-signed. Trading Boosh has to be the first choice over a buy out, simply because of cap space, but a buy out might be necessary if there aren’t any takers. Leighton will likely serve as the backup next season, as one of Dan Ellis, Evgeni Nabokov, Marty Turco and Chris Mason are being targeted by the orange and black to fill the starting role.
    The organization does not believe Ellis will be signing in Montreal, and that doesn’t really make much sense anyway. Why would Ellis sign with Montreal as a backup to Carey Price when he could get a starting job with another team if he waits another day?

  8. JCHFlyers - Jul 1, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    Completely agree with the post from “Leighton”. I blame defensive breakdowns, a lack of team energy, and an impressive offensive display by the Blackhawks for the Flyer’s inability to keep the puck out of the net. I haven’t looked at the stats, but my perception was that Leighton actually outplayed Niemi that series.
    Anyway, the saved money can be better spent on defense or upgrading PK/PP teams. Not sure about getting rid of Boucher. Anybody know where the Backlund signing factors into all this?

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