What goaltending problem in Philadelphia?

Whether or not you thought the Philadelphia Flyers needed to make a trade for a goaltender, they didn’t – because they couldn’t without moving a big piece.

Long-term contracts, lack of draft picks and prospects tied General Manager, Paul Holmgren’s hands on March 3rd. If a move could have been made, I think it would have. But was the right decision made, not to?

It was the first deadline since 1993 that the Flyers didn’t make a move. They’re 6-1-1 in their last eight, sit third in the Atlantic at 34-26-4 and trail the New Jersey Devils by seven points.

My choice – would have been to try to acquire a seasoned veteran goalie just in case Leighton comes back down to earth, or try to move a big salary for more of a ‘can’t miss’ goalie prospect. But none of that happened.

So where does that leave Philadelphia?

Entering the Playoffs - your starting goaltender - 28 year-old, Michael Leighton. The keeper has played for five different NHL teams and five different AHL teams since 2002 and has bad career numbers. For example, prior to being placed on waivers by Carolina, Leighton went 1-4 in five starts with a 4.28 goals against average and .848 save percentage for Carolina, eek.

Your back-up, Brian Boucher - far from being able to carry the load, if need be, you can argue he hasn’t been given a fair shot, outside of a stretch of games when the Flyers couldn’t beat an AHL squad, but nonetheless, has looked sub-par in most of his appearances.

If Michael Leighton fails, do you think Brian Boucher could carry this team through the Playoffs? It’s a stretch, I definitely don’t think so.

So that leaves Flyers fans with a whole hell of a lot of trust in waiver-wire pick-up, Michael Leighton.

Leighton has been money in Philadelphia this season. In 22 games (1230 minutes), Leighton has allowed just 47 goals. He sports a 14-3-2 record with a 2.29 goals against average, .920 save percentage and one shutout.

But more importantly, Leighton looks like he’s a goalie and looks like he deserves to be there. He’s looked on his game in every appearance, outside of a couple. He challenges when he needs to, and can sit back in his crease and rely on his 6’3” frame as well. Positionally, he has looked very sound and the best part – he is confident and has made the timely save when his team needed it the most.

Bottom line: Leighton has good size, excellent fundamentals and wants to be the guy, night after night and has done nothing to show front office and fans, otherwise.

What do I think? I don’t think Leighton has ever been given a fair shot and being the number one, and this is what he needs. He played in 35 games for a really bad Chicago team the year before the lockout and that was his most appearances, ever. I think Leighton can turn into a solid NHL goaltender, and he may be showing us this now.

But what happens next year? And the year after? Aren’t Philadelphia fans sick of the goaltending revolving door? I know I am.

The Flyers have one goaltender signed after this season, and it’s Brian Boucher. What comes next?

Meet Justin Goldman, goalie scout for McKeensHockey and Founder of The Goalie Guild.

I’ve asked him to breakdown the Flyers two-top goalie prospects. After reading some previous stories and tweets from me about Eriksson, you know how high I am on this kid. Here’s what Goldman had to say:

“…I'm a huge fan of Joacim right now because of his style and big-save ability. He catches with the right hand and has a pure hybrid butterfly style that will allow him to adapt smoothly to North American style of hockey. He has quick lateral movement and plays big in the crease with a slightly wider stance than you would see with most European or Swedish goalie prospects. He is mentally sound and displays increased focus with increased pressure, which is a sure sign of a goalie with true NHL potential.

Even though Eriksson is currently playing in the minor league Allsvenskan, he is tearing up the league and will be highly sought after by a number of SEL teams. From what I hear, Brynas is really interested in his services for next season due to the fact that Jacob Markstrom's (Florida Panthers property) contract expires at the end of this season. If Markstrom decides to head overseas, Eriksson's potential and value will soar for the Flyers if he is indeed signed by Brynas.

Eriksson continues to rise in my Top-100 Fantasy Keeper Prospects Rankings and he's definitely one of the best and most interesting goalie prospects in the Flyers' system.”

So how close is Joacim to being a Flyers? I’ve spoken to Joacim here and there and he is undecided whether or not he will stay overseas, or sign professionally to play in North American, next season. If he comes, I think he has all the tools to be a starter for the Phantoms.

On Nicola Riopel:

…Was drafted last summer by the Flyers and promptly signed to play with the Adirondack Phantoms. After a few starts, the organization deemed he would benefit more by returning to his junior club, so he was sent back down to the QMJHL's Moncton Wildcats. Although this may have come off as a step back in his development, it was actually the best thing for his long-term future with the Flyers. Since returning to the Wildcats, Riopel has gone 14-1-2 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.10 GAA.

Riopel is a quality prospect with a great butterfly style and extremely quick arms and legs. His size is decent and his movement is above average. It will probably take him a few more years to develop into an NHL-caliber goaltender, but the potential is certainly there. One of his biggest hurdles to overcome will be managing a 60-minute game at the AHL level. As with most young or recently-drafted goaltending prospects, adjusting to the pro game's elevated speed is not an easy thing to do. But if you look at the history of QMJHL goalies, you'll find names that would entice anyone to become a Riopel fan, as he's arguably one of the best goalies in the league.

The thing to keep in mind with Riopel is that some goalies adjust quicker and smoother than others, but the ones that adjust slower do not necessarily DEVELOP slower. It's all relative to the goalie, their style and how much they can take advantage of opportunities. Although Riopel did not take advantage of his opportunity to stick with Adirondack, the increased minutes played in the QMJHL will give him the time he needs to develop more game management skills”.

I really like that Riopel has professional experience and has appeared for the Phantoms, despite not playing well, he’s been there and knows what needs to be done to succeed. I would imagine that the chances are pretty well that Riopel will be in Adirondack all season, next year.

What I could see: Michael Leighton proving his worth, signing an extension in Philadelphia, and being the starting goaltender in Philadelphia until one of Riopel or Eriksson, probably the latter, take over.