THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
VOORHEES, N.J. — Michael Leighton cost the Flyers all of about US$142,000 this season.
His price will surely go up.
It just might be a different team willing to pay Leighton next season.
On the day the Flyers could have played Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, general manager Paul Holmgren was already planning for next season.
Holmgren’s top priority is figuring out what to do with his goaltender. Leighton is an unrestricted free agent and Brian Boucher is signed through next season. Boucher started the post-season as the Flyers’ No. 1 goalie until he was injured, which allowed Leighton to take over and lead the Flyers all the way to a Game 6 loss in the Stanley Cup finals.
Leighton came cheap to the Flyers because they claimed him on waivers in December and paid only a prorated share of his salary. He was sensational in the Eastern Conference finals before fizzling against Chicago in the finals.
Leighton followed three shutouts in the Eastern Conference finals against Montreal with a poor effort against the Blackhawks. He was yanked twice, allowed 26 goals and had a 3.96 goals-against average with a save percentage of .876.
“I think we’ve got to be careful there in how we view him,” Holmgren said Friday.
Holmgren hasn’t looked at a replay of Patrick Kane’s Game 6 overtime winner against Leighton on Wednesday. Leighton said he knows it was a soft goal and had a hard time accepting his season ended that way.
Holmgren danced around the question when asked if he considered Leighton a No. 1 goalie.
“You can’t argue with his record and numbers when he had an opportunity to play,” Holmgren said.
Leighton said he definitely wants to return to the Flyers. He said he considered himself a No. 1 goalie and doesn’t know if he’ll be back next season.
“I enjoyed my time here, I enjoyed the guys and the organization,” he said. “It’s kind of up to the team. I’ve still got to meet with Homer and talk it over.”
Stating his case later, he added, “There’s not too many goalies that make it to the Stanley Cup finals.”
Holmgren said the Flyers agreed to terms with backup Johan Backlund on a two-year contract.
While an estimated two million fans turned out Friday in Chicago to cheer for the Blackhawks, the Flyers were heading home. Some skates hung from empty lockers, playoff beards were gone, and they talked about the difficulty of moving on.
“Waking up yesterday, I almost had to peel myself out of bed just to move around,” Flyers captain Mike Richards said.
Richards played all 82 games, 23 more in the playoffs and played seven games over two weeks for Team Canada in the Olympics. He said he had “nothing left”, but wouldn’t trade the short summer for all of his experiences.
Richards knows more is expected in the future, like actually winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1975.
Asked to evaluate centre Richards’ growth this season, Holmgren said it’s “two wins from where it needs to be.”
Holmgren said he hopes the Flyers of April-June are the real deal and not the one that staggered to a 41-35-6 regular season and needed to win a shootout in the finale just to make the playoffs.
“We had some players that went through a lot of personal travails through the year that they had to fight through,” Holmgren said.
Other last day notes:
– Flyers coach Peter Laviolette did not meet with the media on Friday.
– Danny Briere hope his move back to centre in the post-season remains permanent. He finished as the leading scorer in the post-season with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists). He also set the Flyers’ franchise record for post-season scoring.
“Everybody knows that I feel more comfortable in the middle and I’d rather play centre,” he said. “If it helps the team more on the wing, I’m fine with that as well.”
– Let’s leave the last word of the season to Chris Pronger.
Chicago’s Adam Burish, a healthy scratch for the last three games of the finals, took a shot at Pronger in a TV interview after Game 6. He called Pronger “the biggest idiot in the league.”
Pronger asked, “Did he play?” and said he didn’t comment on players who want five minutes of fame.
When Pronger was told that Burish said he wanted to punch him next time they saw each other, Pronger cracked: “Where’s that? In the minors?”