With six days before the Flyers take the ice again, we decided that this week is a great chance to look back at one of the more memorable years in team history. Being a fan of this team was certainly a roller coaster ride this year, and the most stomach-churning parts of that ride came when talking about the goaltending situation.
We enter 2011 with the problem of having too many goaltenders with the NHL club, but as we all know, there was a time in the last calendar year where the Flyers couldn't find an NHL goalie to man their crease. It got so bad that at one point, they turned to a college student from UMass-Lowell who couldn't practice during the week because he had a classes to attend and homework to finish. Luckily, Carter Hutton never got into a game, but he did sit the bench.
The Philadelphia Goalie Carousel of 2010 raises a fascinating question, though. Who was the best Flyers goaltender of 2010? There are a few potential answers to that question.
Michael Leighton, #49
Leighton became a Flyer in 2009 after being claimed off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes, and his story was nothing short of miraculous. After injuries to Ray Emery and Brian Boucher, Leighton found himself with the crease all to himself, where he became a relatively steady presence as the Flyers made an improbable early 2010 climb from the basement of the Eastern Conference to a legitimate threat to make the postseason.
But Leighton wouldn't be able to avoid the injury bug either, and just as the team was ready to hit the stretch run of the regular season, Leighton went down with an ankle injury. He relinquished the crease as a result, and as the Flyers fell in an 0-3 hole to the Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs, he could only watch.
Many people still hold the belief that if Brian Boucher were in net, the Flyers wouldn't have been able to complete the greatest comeback in the history of comebacks against the Bruins in that series. Boucher went down to injury in Game 5, however, and that just happened to be Leighton's first game back on the bench after his injury.
Leighton returned, the Flyers got past the Bruins, dispatched the Canadiens easily, and waltzed their way into the Cup Final against Chicago. Leighton was pulled in Game 1 after a sloppy performance, but returned for the remainder of the series. And then... well, we all know what happened in Game 6.
The question we all have to ask ourselves (and that we've continually asked ourselves since that goal): does the impact of that one goal take away from what Leighton did in the regular season and the playoffs to that point, and does the fact that he was in net during most of the postseason give him the honor of the best Flyers goaltender of 2010?
Brian Boucher, #33
And then there's Boosh. He was mostly the backup in 2010, but when he did get a chance to start, he played in some of the most important games and in some of the biggest moments of the season. He was in net when the Flyers beat the Rangers to end the season and clinch a playoff berth. He was in net for the entire first round, and all of the bad part of the second round.
This season, he's served as the backup once again, but he's been a consistent beacon of knowledge for rookie Sergei Bobrovsky. When he's seen playing time, he's performed admirably. So maybe Boosh doesn't have the Cup Final on his resume (outside of two periods of relief in Game 1), but he does have playoff experience and some fantastic regular season play behind him as well. Is that enough to call him the best Flyers goaltender of the last year?
Sergei Bobrovsky, #35
Bob. He's the exciting rookie, the surprise star, the smiling Russian. He's taken the Flyers, the city and the NHL by storm so far this season, placing his name in Calder Trophy conversations and earning his way into the Top 5 in All-Star Voting among goaltenders.
There's no question that Bobrovsky's potential is greater at this point than either Boucher or Leighton, but is that enough to call him the best Flyers goalie of 2010? Time to vote...