It is often said that the goaltender position is the toughest to play in all of sports. But what about backup goalie? Some might say that is the easiest, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is very difficult to prepare mentally when you rarely know for sure when you are going to play. And if the starting goalie gets hot, it could be a month before you get a sniff of the ice again.
That is what happened to Michael Leighton last season.
|2008 - Michael Leighton||19||1029||6||7||2||1||50||2.92||507||457||.901||0|
This past season, Leighton had some good moments, and some not so good ones. The highlight of the year was probably in February when he scrambled his way to a 4-3 shoot out win over the Sharks in San Jose. The lowlight, when he allowed four goals in the third period against Philadelphia as the Canes blew a four goal lead and ended up losing in a shoot out to the Flyers, last December.
Leighton has been around the block a few times, even if he does not have a ton of NHL experience. He was originally drafted in 1999 by the Chicago Blackhawks and got his break in 2003-04 as he started 34 games for the Hawks and went 6-18. The following year he was traded to Buffalo, but then was signed as a free agent by Anaheim the year after that. The Ducks put the goalie on waivers early in 2007 and he was claimed by the Preds, who also put him on waivers later in the season. Then he was claimed by the Flyers. Later in the year, the Flyers put him back on waivers and he was then claimed by Montreal. (Is that some kind of a record?)
The Hurricanes acquired him from Montreal for a 7th round draft pick, then assigned him to the AHL where he was an all star for Albany and was one of the best goalies in the league. Last off season, the Canes rewarded him with a two year NHL contract so he could be full-time backup for Cam Ward.
The Good: Leighton has a big, 6'3 frame and takes up a lot of room in the net. He has excellent fundamentals and is a very hard worker. He has never complained about his role and stays late most practices to help the shooters work on their skills. He was an improvement over previous backup John Grahame.
The Bad: He needs to be more consistent. It seems like the coaching staff lost confidence in him last year as they rode Cam Ward exclusively for the last month of the season, almost to the point of over-playing him. His stats were not very good and I think everyone is looking for a better year from him this coming season.
The Money: Leighton is in the final year of his two year deal which pays him $600,000 annually.