Tyler J. Altemose
Earlier today it was announced that Flyers defenseman Matt Walker was being sent down to the Adirondack Phantoms to begin a conditioning stint. He played this evening against the Syracuse Crunch, recording 2 PIM and 1 SoG. He was a -1 on the night. Walker was injured during a preseason fight 21 September against Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond of the New Jersey Devils. During said fight, Walker explained that he heard something "pop". He later had hip surgery on 20 October. This evening's game is his first since the injury occurred.
Speaking of rehabbing Flyers playing for the Phantoms, goaltender Michael Leighton had his third start with the team this evening. He had 29 saves (.935 SV%) in the Phantoms' 5-2 victory over the Crunch. His initial conditioning stint was scheduled to end after last Sunday's game against the Albany Devils. However, as was speculated, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren filed for a two-game extension to Leighton's conditioning stint. The request was granted Monday evening by the NHL.
In three games with the Phantoms, Leighton has a .897 SV% and a 3.05 GAA. After last Sunday's loss to the Albany Devils, Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey reported that Leighton had been pretty unimpressive.
So where does this leave the Flyers? It seems as if the team is currently at an interesting crossroads. As far as I see things, this situation is reminiscent of a gladiator battle at the Coliseum: two men enter--one leaves.
Okay, but who stays and who goes? In the battle of Leighton v. Walker, it seems to me that the former will get his chance in the NHL once more come next week. Here's why.
The Flyers have an overabundance of D-men. This is probably the strongest pro-Leighton argument out there. The Flyers defense is currently sitting pretty. You have the Flyers top four which obviously aren't going anywhere. To compound the issue, the Flyers' 5/6 pairing are tops in the league in +/-. Furthermore, the Flyers can turn to defenseman Oskars Bartulis if, God forbid, something happens to one of the other six. At best, Walker would be fighting with Bartulis for that 7th spot (or, more appropriately, popcorn in the press box). The team can afford to lose a defenseman.
I know Homer wanted to go with 8 defenseman this season. He made that blatantly evident. But, as he should know all-too-well, things in Philly have a funny way of not turning out like you'd wish (see Philadelphia Flyers 2009-10 goaltenders).
Leighton has more experience as a Flyer than Walker. Alas, we go from the strongest to possibly the weakest pro-Leighton argument. While not that great of an argument at all, it does still have some weight here, if only because the Philadelphia Flyers are the Philadelphia Flyers. I don't know how many other organizations are run this way, but the Flyers are an organization that will take something as silly as this into consideration, so it's best to mention it. [And yes, this is all despite the drama that unfolded when Leighton first succumbed to his back injury.]
The current goaltending situation for the Flyers doesn't have enough in the tank to take this team deep into the playoffs. I'll admit I've changed my position on this argument. Initially I was of the belief that Leighton should be waived--that the current goaltending tandem in Philly was doing just fine and Leighton's services were no longer needed (taking all things into consideration). But if you've been watching Bobrovsky lately you can almost see how overworked he's been.
I'm going to avoid a rant on Peter Laviolette and the coaching staff in Philly and say this much: with 22 GP so far, "Bob" is roughly 2/3 of the way into the maximum number of games he's played in a season (he played 35 last season in the KHL). The problem is that, with just 30 games played so far, the Flyers are only 1/3 of the way into their season. What happens when the playoffs arrive (assuming the Flyers make it, which they will)?
Sure, we have Brian Boucher. Don't get me wrong--he's been a solid backup so far, and I've defended him in the past, but he, too, doesn't have enough in the tank to take the Flyers deep into the playoffs. He himself hasn't played 35 games in a season since 2003-04 when he played 40 for the Phoenix Coyotes (unless you want to count 42 in 2007-08 as a Phantom).
This means that the Flyers' current goaltending tandem, at best, is perhaps capable of putting maybe 70 games together before falling apart (and that's being generous). Leighton is the "filler" this team needs to go the distance. While not an optimal decision, he's going to at least be able to take some weight off of the shoulders of Bob and Boosh (provided Lavvy doesn't screw things up).
Leighton is more "cap-safe" than Walker. I'll admit it--the breadth of this argument goes as far as the fact that I know that Leighton has a lower cap hit than Walker. But never fear; I have sent an e-mail to the good folks at Capgeek, and I look forward to them clearing the confusion for me (and you good folks as well).
Interesting things await Flyerland upon the conclusion of this weekend. Stay tuned for more.