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Flyers place Leighton on waivers

by Adam Kimelman /
Michael Leighton, who backstopped the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final in June, was placed on waivers Monday.

The 29-year-old has played just one NHL game this season, stopping 32 of 36 shots in a 7-4 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 30. He had missed the first part of the season following back surgery in October.

"There's two reasons for doing this," said Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren. "It's in the best interest of the Flyers at this time and No. 2, it's in the best interests of Michael. We need to get Michael playing at a higher level and unfortunately when you've got a goaltender situation like we have it's tough to do right now."

Leighton had been activated from injured reserve Dec. 14, and at the time Holmgren said he was OK with carrying three goaltenders. However, that's not a solid long-term solution.

"It's more about practice time and preparing everybody to do their jobs," said Holmgren. "It's very difficult with three goalies in a practice situation. Somebody's always getting the (rough) end of the stick. This is just a better way of getting everyone involved and playing."

Leighton is available for any of the 29 teams to claim for the remainder of the two-year contract he signed with the Flyers over the summer. Holmgren said if Leighton clears waivers, he will be sent to the Adirondack Phantoms, the club's American Hockey League affiliate, on Tuesday.

Holmgren understands its a gamble putting Leighton on waivers, but it's one he's willing to take.

"I'd be very disappointed (if he was claimed)," said Holmgren, "because I think we'd be losing a goalie for nothing. ... You're always rolling the dice when you're putting a player on waivers."

To recall Leighton, Holmgren will have to put him on re-entry waivers, which will allow a team the chance to claim him for half the remaining value of the contract, with the Flyers responsible for the other half.

Holmgren said he understands there's a chance for a problem in the future, but for now, this he said he believes this is the best move.

"I think more than anything he needs to get playing," Holmgren said of Leighton. "Right now he's probably in training-camp mode and he needs to get up to speed to help our team. The only way he's going to get doing that is by going down and playing on a more consistent basis than he was playing here."

In Leighton's absence, rookie Sergei Bobrovsky and veteran Brian Boucher have solidified the team's goaltending situation. Bobrovsky was NHL Rookie of the Month for November and at one point was unbeaten in 10 straight games in regulation. Boucher has won seven of his last nine starts, including a 25-save effort in a 3-2 win in Detroit on Sunday.

"Brian has played extremely well for us," said Holmgren. "He sort of carried over from the way he finished last year. His attitude has been tremendous. He's taking everything a day at a time and going about his own business. That's all you can do. He's been the ultimate team man. We're thrilled with how he's played."

Leighton had arrived in Philadelphia last Dec. 15 with little fanfare when starter Ray Emery was injured, but ended up saving the Flyers' season. He started 8-0-1 and went 16-5-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .918 save percentage for Philadelphia -- all career-best numbers -- before an ankle injury ended his regular season in March.

He returned for Game 5 of the Flyers' Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Bruins, and replaced an injured Boucher in the second period. He helped finish the Flyers' historic comeback from an 0-3 series deficit, then shut out the Montreal Canadiens three times in a five-game victory in the Eastern Conference Final.

Leighton started all six games against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, but was pulled from Game 1 and Game 5, and surrendered Patrick Kane's overtime goal to end the series in Game 6.

Originally a 1999 sixth-round draft pick of the Blackhawks, Leighton has a career record of 35-40-10 with a 2.92 goals-against average and .902 save percentage in 104 NHL games with the Blackhawks, Predators, Flyers and Hurricanes.

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