The Flyers placed Michael Leighton on waivers today and we shouldn't be surprised. As soon as the Tampa Bay Lightning traded for Dwayne Roloson, the amount of teams who would trade for an aging backup goaltender whittled to zero.
Unable to find any team in need of a goalie, and having three of their own, the Flyers had no choice but to waive him. With my deep affection for Brian Boucher, one would assume this day to be a jolly one for me. But it's more of a confusing day.
There is a lot of talk about the Flyers creating "cap space" with this move, but whenever you hear someone like Assistant GM Barry Hanrahan or Inquirer writer Sam Carchidi say the Flyers created cap space, they mean they acquired more room under the LTIR exemption. In other words, they're able to spend more over the salary cap temporarily, which will eventually disappear. Space it is not.
It is with this background that we ask why the Flyers decided to place Leighton on waivers today. I think the answer is a simple one, if not a logical one. With three goalies traveling with the team, there will always be one - if not more - who does not get enough work on a daily basis. Sure, you could have one guy go on another rink by himself with the goaltending coach, or you could have that day's healthy scratches take extra shots on him after the starters go home to nap. But that guy is not nearly as sharp as he should be, or needs to be.
Carrying three goalies was something I advocated for earlier, but it's never a long-term solution. So when the Flyers were faced with a situation which saw all three goalies start in a three-game stretch, it's not surprising that they looked less-than-great. But when the situation doesn't "resolve itself", as we were constantly told these things do, either by an injury or a trade, there was really only one option left: waive one of them.
It all makes perfect sense as it is so simple to understand. The problem is what happens down the road. As GM Paul Holmgren said in his conference call today, if the Flyers need Leighton later in the year due to an injury, "they are rolling the dice."
"I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. You’re right in that respect. A lot of it depends on at that time, if there are other teams who are having injury issues or whatever issues with their goaltending situation. Right now we’re dealing with Monday, January 3 and today this is the best move we can make for our team."
This is the best move for the team - well, for the goalies at least - as of today. If a goalie goes down, the Flyers either risk losing Michael Leighton on re-entry waivers, and thus have to pay half of his remaining salary (owed this year and next) OR they recall Johan Backlund instead. While there may not be much difference in talent between the two - we'd be kidding ourselves if we said Leighton wasn't at least marginally better than Backlund - there is definitely the mental aspect which favors Leighton.
It may not be good for Leighton, Boucher, or Bobrovsky to have all three of them with the club the whole season. In fact, it almost certainly isn't. But when the team placed Ian Laperriere on LTIR, they all but guaranteed they would be over the salary cap for the rest of the year. When they refused to waive Matt Walker and instead placed him on LTIR so they could bring Leighton back, they told us that they would rather keep a $1.7 million insurance policy on defense than say that any of Oskars Bartulis, Danny Syvret, Erik Gustafsson, Kevin Marshall, or Marc-Andre Bourdon could fill in admirably.
So in a year where you have a $1.7 million insurance policy and you don't care about the probability of cap penalties next year, are you not saying "this is the year we win the Stanley Cup. This is the year we try our hardest, and say to hell with the repercussions for next year"? To me, you certainly are. Worry about next year, next year. It was this reasoning I used to justify the refusal to waive an overpaid seventh defenseman.
But by (likely) banishing Michael Leighton from the club for the remainder of the season - what are the odds a club like the Islanders or Panthers or one with an injury pass on Leighton at a cost of roughly $775,000 next year and roughly $400,000 this year? - are you not weakening your NHL team's insurance policy? If Sergei Bobrovsky goes down with a groin injury in March, are you comfortable with Brian Boucher and Backlund taking this team to the Stanley Cup? I'm willing to bet Boucher/Leighton makes you more comfortable.
And none of this mentions the logjam in Adirondack now. Johan Backlund should be returning shortly, Brian Stewart just won AHL Player - not goalie, player - of the Week, and Nic Riopel started five games in a row at the end of December, getting his first professional shutout. Oh, and the team's ECHL affiliate has the starting job locked up by a Rangers prospect who just happens to be leading the league in wins and goals against average.
So is the move in the best interest of the Flyers as of January 3rd? Almost certainly. But that doesn't make it less confusing, or less complicated. Unless, of course, he gets claimed.