Quit Hatin' On Leighton
On Tuesday, the Flyers announced that goaltender Michael Leighton had been placed on re-entry waivers. He was not claimed by any other team, and rejoined the Flyers on Wednesday. According to Leighton, it was a move that the organization had been planning for a few weeks. It was somewhat of a risky move, placing him on waivers with just two games left in the season, but the organization got the end result they wanted - he was back.
The announcement was met with a large amount of criticism. Judging from what I saw on Twitter and read on various blogs, not many people were happy about Leighton being called up. The apparent hatred for Leighton is nothing new; in the past few weeks, I’ve seen different tweets and blog posts written about how much he sucks. Every opportunity presented to make a joke about a 5-hole, someone makes it. And what did I do when I read or heard those things? I got irritated. I tweeted something passive aggressive. Why? Because I just do not understand the hatred. Why are people so down on this guy? Why all of the negativity directed his way?
Now, look. I know that he gave up the worst possible goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals last year. I understand that. Just like every other Flyers fan, seeing footage of that goal hurts. However, while I know many people blame him for the Flyers not winning the Cup, I think he was a scapegoat. (That’s an entirely different story, for an entirely different post, though.) Unfortunately, he will always be associated with that one goal he gave up. No matter what he does in the future, no matter how well he plays, there will still be hostility toward him because of that. He could help the Flyers win the Cup one day (maybe that’s stretching it, but it’s possible!), and people will still be making their “Michael Leighton’s 5-hole” jokes.
The goal he gave up to Patrick Kane that won the Blackhawks the Cup will always be the postseason story he’s associated with. People seem very quick to forget what else he did during the playoffs. Leighton came in and took over after Brian Boucher got injured during the Bruins series - keep in mind, he’d once been the backup backup goaltender - and was solid. In the playoffs overall, in fourteen games, he went 8-3 and had three shutouts. He struggled against the Blackhawks, but so did a lot of his teammates. I’m not placing blame on anyone - I’m just saying that I think Leighton gets blamed a lot more for the Flyers not going all the way than he should.
Leighton had back surgery in October, and played his first and only game for the Flyers this season on December 30th against the Los Angeles Kings. He gave up four goals, but ultimately got the win. Just a few days later, he was placed on waivers and sent down to the Phantoms, where he’s put together a decent season. In 30 games, he’s gone 14-12-3 with a 2.22 GAA and .926 save %. He finished his stint in Adirondack with back-to-back shutouts, two of the five he posted this season.
Sergei Bobrovsky was named the starting playoff goaltender for the Flyers this week, with Brian Boucher as his backup, so it’s doubtful that Leighton will get much - if any - ice time during the playoffs. But if he does, we as Flyers fans need to be supportive of him. I know he’s not the best goalie in the world, and I’m not trying to say that he is. He’s been successful in the AHL, but there is a world of difference between the two leagues, and I fully understand that. Still, there are plenty of players in the NHL, all-stars, even, who had stints in the AHL - Danny Briere, for one. (I’m not comparing the skill sets of the two, so please don’t go there - I’m just saying.)
Whether Leighton finds success with the Flyers remains to be seen. He’s not going to be a number one goalie - not anytime soon, at least - but as he’s proven in the past, he’s capable of doing well in the NHL. He has an opportunity to prove himself again, and I really hope he finds success.
In closing, I’ll leave you with this: one goal, regardless of how weak it was and how much it hurts to remember, does not and cannot define a player. Michael Leighton is more than that one weak goal, and more than a punchline. Just give him the chance to prove that.