The Flyers showed Wednesday they weren't giving lip service when they said Michael Leighton should not be judged on the soft overtime goal he allowed that enabled the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup in Game 6.
They signed the 29-year-old goalie to a two-year deal for $3.1 million, according to an NHL source. Leighton was outstanding in the regular season and the playoffs - until the Stanley Cup Finals.
"Michael is an athletic goalie who we feel is just coming into his own as an NHL goaltender," general manager Paul Holmgren said, "and we look forward to Michael building on the level of play he established this past season."
Leighton, who signed one day before he would have become an unrestricted free agent, is not necessarily going to be the team's No. 1 goaltender.
A source close to the situation said Holmgren would be open to talks with unrestricted free-agent goalies Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco, among others.
"There may be a limited opportunity to sign them," the source said, "and Paul will explore everything."
The free-agency period starts Thursday.
After being granted permission to talk with the agents for Nabokov and Turco in the last week, the Flyers had uneventful conversations.
Another source said the Flyers plan to talk with the agents for free-agent goalies Dan Ellis, whose rights are owned by Montreal, and Chris Mason, formerly of St. Louis.
After being claimed off reentry waivers from Carolina on Dec. 15, Leighton rescued the Flyers' season. He went 16-5-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .918 save percentage with the Flyers.
In the Eastern Conference semifinals, Leighton returned from an ankle injury and played the final 21/2 games of the Flyers' historic comeback against Boston, when they rallied from a three-games-to-none deficit. Then he posted three shutouts - a club playoff record for a series - as the Flyers ousted Montreal from the conference finals in five games.
Leighton struggled in the Stanley Cup Finals, becoming the first goalie since 1991 to be pulled from two Finals games. He finished the series with a 3.96 goals-against average and an .876 save percentage, and he surrendered soft goals to Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane in the decisive Game 6.
But in the end, the Flyers viewed Leighton's overall body of work.
"I'm very excited for the opportunity to come back to the Flyers' organization for two more years," Leighton said. "It was my intention all along. This is what I wanted. I really enjoy playing here. My teammates, the organization, and the fans are so passionate. I just think it is a good fit for me."
The market. In free agency, the Flyers will try to bolster their defense and perhaps add a winger.
Free-agent defensemen include Dan Hamhuis, Anton Volchenkov and Paul Martin - three pricey players - along with less-expensive options such as Zbynek Michalek, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Kurtis Foster and Shaone Morrisonn. The team could decide to re-sign Lukas Krajicek.
The Flyers acquired Hamhuis' rights from Nashville on June 19, then traded them to Pittsburgh when they couldn't sign him.
"We'd like to add a player of that caliber to our defense," a club source said.
The Flyers are about $9 million under the new $59.4 million salary cap, but that number will be greatly reduced if they re-sign restricted free agents Braydon Coburn, Dan Carcillo and Darroll Powe.
All three were given qualifying offers about two weeks ago and have until July 15 to respond.
A Flyers official said the team was encouraged by the progress made in talks with Coburn's agent.
Holmgren is unsure if he will re-sign third-line right winger Arron Asham, an unrestricted free agent who provided toughness and 10 goals last season. Asham had four goals and three assists in the playoffs.
Free-agent wingers who could interest the Flyers include Colby Armstrong, Maxim Afinogenov, Raffi Torres and Ray Whitney. Matt Cullen, a center who would move to wing, is also on the Flyers' radar.
Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181
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