Could Islanders claim Leighton?

Michael Leighton could end up with the Islanders after being waived by the Flyers yesterday. (Mark J. Terrill/AP File Photo)

Heading into last night’s action, less than 8 hours into Michael Leighton’s brief purgatory on the NHL’s waiver wire for the fifth time in his career, it looked like Leighton would end today unclaimed with the Flyers sending him to Adirondack for some long-term seasoning.

Suddenly, with another injury scare in a season filled with them for the Islanders, Leighton may have found a new home.

The Islanders, as we noted, shipped veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson to Tampa Bay on Saturday night for defense prospect Ty Wishart and handed the keys to their crease to oft-injured goalie Rick DiPietro.

DiPietro, 29, left last night’s game in Calgary with an adductor strain according to Newsday’s Katie Strang. Video of his injury is below.

He was replaced by undrafted rookie Nathan Lawson, who made his NHL debut on Dec. 18 while DiPietro was on the injured reserve with swelling in his surgically repaired knee.

DiPietro, who signed an absurd 15-year deal in 2006-07 at an annual salary of $4.5 million, has played just 28 games over the last three seasons with a myriad of severe injuries. He has missed an astounding 173 games during that time period.

He is the ultimate injury risk.

Amazingly, the Islanders are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. They have beaten some of the top teams in the NHL over the last few weeks, including Pittsburgh and Detroit. It’s hard to believe, but they are just 11 points out of a playoff spot with a whole 45 games left on their schedule.

Former Flyers goaltender Garth Snow, the Islanders’ general manager, said on Monday that Roloson’s trade over the weekend wasn’t the franchise waving the white flag – even though they also traded defenseman James Wisniewski to Montreal for draft picks last week.

Snow, who is close with Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, took a big gamble that DiPietro would remain healthy for the remainder of the season.

Of course, the severity of DiPietro’s latest injury remained unknown late last night. Newsday reported that DiPietro was pulled as a precaution. Given his history, even a precaution is enough reason for concern. The adductor is part of the groin muscle, which is a vital part of a goaltender’s movement and reflexes.

Even if DiPietro is out for just a limited amount of time, the Islanders would be forced to re-call goaltending prospect Kevin Poulin, who is a 20-year-old rookie with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Poulin has spent most of this season playing behind Lawson.

Do the Islanders really want Poulin getting shelled behind the Islanders’ weak defense as his introduction to the big leagues?

That’s where I believe Leighton could come in.

Earlier on Monday, it seemed like Leighton being claimed would be a long-shot. While Holmgren undoubtedly contacted Snow about a possible opening for a trade, Leighton’s own question injury history and poor debut last Thursday in Los Angeles likely hurt him.

The Islanders, after the league’s worst team in New Jersey, will have second crack to claim Leighton on waivers before this morning’s 11 o’clock deadline.

That would be the best case for the Flyers, as New York would be responsible for Leighton’s entire $3.1 million contract that extends through next season. While they would lose Leighton as an insurance policy in Adirondack in case of an injury to Brian Boucher or Sergei Bobrovsky, it’s unlikely a team would not have taken a chance on Leighton on re-entry waivers when they could have him for half price.

Even at full price, adding Leighton’s $1.55 yearly salary (which would prorated for the first half of the season) for the Islanders, whose payroll is approximately $595,000 above the NHL’s salary cap minimum of $40 million, would not be an issue.

Long Island would also be the best fit for Leighton, who helped carry the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals last season but has been hampered since having his herniated disk repaired in October, who is looking to return to form with more playing time, preferably in the NHL.

The only question remains: is it the best fit for the Islanders, even if it is temporary?

A lot of that, as it always has in the Islanders’ net, depends on DiPietro’s health. But DiPietro's latest injury, and the timing of it, could be the perfect storm the Flyers went to bed wishing for.

Stay tuned.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

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