Most teams don't have the luxury of having two healthy, starting goaltenders in today's NHL. The Philadelphia Flyers were an exception. They actually had three.
The Flyers waived goaltender Michael Leighton, general manager Paul Holmgren announced, meaning Philadelphia, tied for first place in the Atlantic Division with Pittsburgh, will go with Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky the rest of the way.
Leighton, who helped lead Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup Finals last June, underwent October back surgery and had only played in one game this season, a 7-4 win over the Kings in Los Angeles last week.
But he was a key cog last postseason, as the Flyers, despite not clinching a berth until the regular season's final day, advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. Leighton and the Flyers defeated New Jersey, Boston, and Montreal before falling to Chicago. Leighton went 8-3 in the postseason, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average.
His playoff run helped him to sign a two-year, $3.1 million contract extension last summer, just before free agency began. But his herniated disk forced him to miss most of this season. In his absence, Bobrovsky, a relative unknown, began to make a name for himself. He is 15-6, while Boucher is 8-4.
"This has more to do with the way the other two guys have played," Holmgren said of his decision. "We expect them to continue playing well."
In Leighton's only start, he made 32 saves, but was shaky in the win. It was his first action, other than two rehabilitation stints in the AHL.
"There's two reasons for doing this at this time," Holmgren said. "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."
If Leighton clears waivers, Holmgren said, the Flyers will send him back to the AHL on Tuesday. If a team claims him before he returns to the Adirondack Phantoms, that team would only have to pay half the price of Leighton's contract, with the Flyers picking up the rest.
"Right now, he's in a training camp mode, and needs to get up to speed to help our team," Holmgren said. "The only way he's going to do that, is if he goes down. We all expected him to be a little rusty."
Leighton could have been traded, but the list of teams that need goaltenders is short these days. The Tampa Bay Lightning were among them, but they acquired Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders on Saturday.
"We looked around a little bit," Holmgren said. "But there was nothing there."
The Flyers, with Boucher making 25 saves, defeated the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, on Sunday night. They'll meet the New Jersey Devils in Newark on Thursday.