Grading the 2010 Flyers: Michael Leighton

CHICAGO - MAY 31: Michael Leighton #49 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks down in the third period while taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Two of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on May 31, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Grade:  A
09/10 Salary: $600,000
10/11 Cap Hit: UFA
Depth Chart Ranking: UFA

[ Hockey Reference Player Page ]

2009 - Michael Leighton 34


(These stats above include his four games with Carolina, which drag down his numbers significantly.)

I'm guessing that grade surprises a lot of people.  Yes, I too think that Michael Leighton is the main reason the Flyers lost the Stanley Cup Finals. 

But think of where he came from.  He was put on waivers by Carolina, back when they were by far the worst team in the league.  When the Flyers claimed him off the waiver wire, it was a desperation pick up of a guy who was generally seen as a lousy prospect destined to flounder in the AHL or Europe for the remainder of his unremarkable career.

And the Flyers were in a terrible place as well.  John Stevens had been fired, and the Flyers were in 14th in the East.  Ray Emery was hurt, and Brian Boucher had only managed a 4-9-1 record.  Life sucked.

But then Michael Leighton entered our lives, and things got better.  Leighton went an incredible 9-1-1 in his first eleven decisions, and put the Flyers back into the playoff picture.

After his first regulation loss, Leighton was stupidly shelved once Emery returned from injury.  And then Emery was completely overworked, given eight straight starts and predictably got reinjured.

Leighton came back in, and went 8-4-1. Life was again good.

But once Leighton was lost with a high ankle sprain, things immediately went to hell again.  The Boucher/Backlund/Duchesne tandem that was assembled went only 5-7-2.  Despite being as high as fifth in the East under Leighton, without him the Flyers didn't get into the finals until Game 82.

Without Michael Leighton, this team doesn't even come close to the playoffs, much less the finals.

Boucher went an adequate 5-4 in the playoffs, and led the league in most statistical categories.  But in Leighton's first game back on the bench, Boucher was hurt and Leighton was called to duty in an elimination game, his first career playoff action and his first game in 55 days.

And Leighton was stellar.  He not only completed the shutout in that game, he anchored the Flyers as they finished the Greatest Comeback in the History of Sports.  Not done yet, Leighton notched an absurd three shutouts in five games against Montreal, a franchise record.

The only reason I didn't give Leighton an A+ is because of his performance in the finals, which was undeniably terrible.  He was a non-factor in the Flyers' wins, and the reason the team lost Games 1, 5, and 6. 

But if I had told you back in December that Michael Leighton "wouldn't be all that good once he got the Flyers in the finals," you'd have been ecstatic.  Because it's a phrase that includes "the Flyers in the finals."  And "the Flyers in the finals" would not have happened without Michael Leighton.

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