Earlier today, the Philadelphia Flyers put goaltender Michael Leighton on re-entry waivers in an attempt to bring him back to the NHL. As a result, any NHL team can claim Leighton for half of his remaining salary owed, or roughly $20,000 this year and $800,000 next year. The catch is that Leighton cannot play in the NHL this year due to the waiver rules.
According to General Manager Paul Holmgren, the move was made for depth. According to CSNPhilly's Tim Panaccio, the team hopes to have Leighton start in Buffalo on Friday night. This raises multiple questions, not many of which have answers (unless you are Paul Holmgren).
1. Why risk placing Leighton on re-entry waivers to start one game, and spend the rest of the playoffs sitting in the press box in a suit?
Unless there's an injury we aren't aware of - and Holmgren's statement that this was a move they've been planning for awhile suggests there isn't - the Flyers are exposing themselves to a dead cap hit next year in order to have a third goalie. Under what scenarios will Michael Leighton make an impact on the ice? First, he would play one game at the end of the regular season, meaning one of the Flyers' top two goalies will not play. How does that help Brian Boucher? Further, the team won't learn anything from his one NHL game in April that they couldn't learn from his thirty games in the AHL the prior three months.
Second, if Michael Leighton sees the ice in the playoffs, it means something went very badly. Either one goalie got hurt and the other got pulled from the game or both goalies got hurt. The odds of that happening is the benefit to this move. If one was to weigh the risk and reward, it would look like this:
Have a cap penalty of $800k against next years cap v. Having a third goalie able to step in during the remote chance both goalies falter.
It's worth noting that even last year, when the Flyers saw seven different goalies dress for a game, the Flyers third playoff goalie saw the ice for less than 90 seconds. And it was so Peter Laviolette could get two timeouts in one game. In other words: If Johan Backlund was a good enough door opener last year, he's a good enough door opener this year.
2. If this move is for depth, do you not have "depth" without putting Leighton on re-entry?
The obvious answer to this is: Yes, you do. Say one of those scenarios play out above. Say the team's starting goalie goes down with injury like Brian Boucher did last year. You have two options: Recall Johan Backlund without having to risk losing him on re-entry, or place Michael Leighton on re-entry waivers then.
If you decide to take the risk and recall Leighton, what happens in this scenario? You have the same risks as you do now (someone claims Leighton, you cannot use him in the playoffs, and you have a cap penalty next year) but a much higher reward to balance out the risk. Naturally, the incentive for another team to claim Leighton goes up (especially for the Flyers' current opponent), but... is any General Manager going to make that claim with the obvious "I don't want Leighton, I just don't want the Flyers to have him" motive? If so, good for them. Rules are rules, and you are playing by the rules.
But the backlash on that GM (read: risk) may not be worth it for him. The GM club is a close knit group who doesn't much like other GMs undermining them. We can only speculate on the repercussions, but I'm sure we can remember the backlash then-GM Bobby Clarke received for giving Ryan Kesler an offer sheet. Tangible punishment? We don't know.
The point is: The Flyers had depth before this move. They will have depth after this move. The only difference is: they may lose part of that depth, and suffer a penalty, when they don't need depth. If one of the Flyers goalies comes down with the flu during the playoffs, would they put Leighton on re-entry just to sit on the bench for a game or two? Hopefully not. That's the beauty of having Johan Backlund exempt from re-entry.
3. If nobody claims Michael Leighton on, essentially a one-year, $800k deal, what does that say about his two-year, $3.1 million contract?
This question was asked when Leighton was offered to NHL teams at full price back in December, but it seems even more apt now. If 29 NHL teams don't want Michael Leighton to be their backup next year for only $800,000, that would be a pretty big indictment of Paul Holmgren's signing of Leighton last summer.
Sure, Leighton's back injury could scare away some teams. But if Leighton's 30 AHL games, where he put up a 2.22 goals against average and a 0.926 save percentage (while every Phantoms goalie not named Leighton put up a 3.38 gaa and 0.883 save percentage) don't prove that isn't an issue, nothing will. The fact is, Leighton is a big reason for the Phantoms' resurgence, supposed bad back and all.
In other words, If the entire League passes on Leighton, it won't be because of his back.
When Leighton came to the Flyers, he earned a $600,000 cap hit. Since then, he had his best ever NHL season, played 14 playoff games, and carried an AHL team on his back. At only $800k - don't forget the incentive to saddle the Flyers with $800k in dead cap - he is a fair deal to a lot of teams, if not a bargain to a team like the Islanders.
The Flyers decided to place Leighton on re-entry waivers, exposing themselves to this risk, in order to have a healthy scratch in the playoffs. The insurance policy most people will talk about is one that requires both Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher to either falter or go down with injury. In that situation, the Flyers have bigger problems than worrying about Leighton clearing re-entry. Instead, the team opted to take the risk with very little reward.
Why open yourself to risk when you don't have to? You still have Leighton as insurance. So when Paul Holmgren asks:
"When it gets right down to it, what’s the difference whether we recall him this week or next week? If we want to improve our goaltending depth it doesn’t matter."
The difference is: You don't need him now. You have depth when you need it. Right now, you just exposed yourself to risk for nothing.