We could be looking at the first time in NHL history where both starting goaltenders in the Stanley Cup finals are on a new team before the end of the very next season. The first goalie to get the boot was Chicago Blackhawk Antti Niemi, after he was sent to the San Jose Sharks.
And now Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton could suffer the same fate.
On Monday, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren announced that Leighton, who was a big reason the Flyers won the Prince of Wales trophy last season, had been waived by the team. It came as a bit of a shock to members throughout the franchise.
The Flyers decided to waive Leighton after he lost his job to rookie Sergei Bobrovsky at the beginning of a season while he was recovery from knee surgery. Bobrovsky has been more than the Flyers could have hoped for this season, with 15 wins and a 2.57 goals-against average. Leighton played in just one game this season, a 7-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings last week.
Leighton was the key to the Flyers postseason success last season, despite not clinching a berth until the last game of the regular season. He helped them advance all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, after an injury forced Brian Boucher to miss time. Leighton stepped in and helped the Flyers defeat New Jersey, Boston and Montreal before losing to Chicago in the finals. He posted an 8-3 record in the postseason, finishing with a .916 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average.
The playoff run also helped him earn a new to-year, $3.1 million contract extension last summer, before the start of free agency. He now seems replaceable and the Flyers and Holmgren know that the money could be used elsewhere.
“There’s two reasons for doing this at this time,” Holmgren told the Associated Press. “One, it’s in the best interest of the Flyers. And two, it’s in the best interest of Michael. We need to get Michael playing. Right now, he’s in a training camp mode, and needs to get up to speed to help our team.”
If Leighton clears waivers the Flyers will send him back to the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL on Tuesday, where he will not effect the cap. Every team has a chance to pick up Leighton but with the list of teams in need of a goaltender short, it doesn’t seem likely he will move.