First as quick catch up on transactions, not too surprisingly the Hurricanes waived Martin Frk today. First, I like the idea of Ron Francis taking free trials with no real risk when he can get them. Not every waivers claim will become a roster player like Andrej Nestrasil but because the cost is tiny, it is worth exploring. I had Frk slated to go back on waivers from the beginning.
Per polling from Canes and Coffee email mailing list subscribers, Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe addressed the elephant in the room and addressed the Hurricanes goaltending situation.
I finished my thoughts by saying that I would consider giving John Leighton an NHL start in 1 half of the Canes back-to-back set on Saturday and Sunday. That is admittedly a somewhat controversial stance. In today’s Daily Cup of Joe, I hope to clarify the rationale behind such a move.
Why Michael Leighton?
Via a set of 10 questions, I will try to explain the rationale behind giving Michael Leighton a 1-start trial.
1-Do I think that Michael Leighton is part of the long-term solution in net? I highly doubt it. As a 35-year old AHL/NHL fringe goalie in the twilight of his career, the odds of him being a good NHL starter for an extended period of time is extremely low. Even if the Leighton experiment goes well, it does not change the need for Ron Francis to figure out something longer term.
2-So if Michael Leighton is not part of a long-term solution, why would I even consider starting him? Francis has work to do to figure out the next 3 years, but after watching the 2015-16 season drift away very quickly last November, Ron Francis and Bill Peters are on the clock right now for the 2016-17. If Leighton could step in and stabilize things for 2 weeks and do nothing else all season, that would be a significant contribution right now.
3-Is Michael Leighton a surefire solution to the Hurricanes’ goaltending need even short-term? No. Not at all. He actually did not look great in preseason and his career NHL stats are not great (which is probably why he has logged more games in the AHL). It is very possible and would not be that surprising if Leighton received a chance at the NHL level, and it did not work out.
4-So if Leighton is at best a short-term solution and might not work out anyway, why does it make sense to give him a start? At the most basic level, the move is incredibly low cost/low risk with potentially high reward. The worst case scenario is that Leighton is not very good in net and lets in a soft goal that costs the Hurricanes a hockey game. That would obviously not be a positive, but is it really that different than starting Ward or Lack right now?
5-As mostly a career AHL goalie with less than stellar NHL numbers, why might this work? Long-term good goalies are obviously much better than lesser goalies. But as I debated on Twitter this afternoon, short-term I would take “hot” over “good.” Arguably the best Hurricanes example of hot being enough to win is Justin Peters. For his career, Peters is more AHL than NHL just like Leighton, but he had 1 stretch when he found a groove and won more than his fair share of hockey games. Could Leighton get an adrenaline boost from his improbable and likely final return to the NHL and right that fuel to a short burst of great hockey? Just maybe yes.
6-What are the chances that Leighton gets hot? The move is admittedly a dice roll, but Leighton is 3-0 and coming off a shutout win in Charlotte. If he puts up another strong outing on Wednesday or Thursday, his recent play starts to suggest that “hot” is in process or at least within reach. I will be anxiously watching to see what Leighton does in his next start on either Wednesday or Thursday.
7-When would I make the move? I would consider giving Leighton 1 of the 2 starts in the back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday. Peters would likely use 2 goalies anyway, so Leighton gets the backup’s start. Leighton would start either Wednesday or Thursday with the Checkers and hopefully continue to build upon his strong start and then carry it over to the NHL level on the weekend.
8-How much of a commitment would I make to Michael Leighton? I would very simply give Leighton a single game and then reassess the situation after that. If he looks horrible and/or like he is in over his head at the NHL level, then probably the experiment gets cut short quickly with minimal losses. On the other hand, if Leighton plays well and wins, then obviously he would stay in the mix and see more ice time. This is not the type of situation where I would just commit to a set of games to help him get acclimated and up to speed. More so, the hope is to catch lightning in a bottle.
9-What about the roster situation? Martin Frk was waived today, so as of right now the Hurricanes have an NHL roster spot that they could give to Leighton. Ultimately, that slot is probably Ryan Murphy’ when he returns from injury, but with the exact timing for that uncertain, Leighton could borrow that NHL roster slot. If Murphy does return, the Canes would need to somehow clear another roster spot. This might sound strange, but especially if Leighton gets off to a good start, I would not be against sending Eddie Lack across waivers to do a short stint in the AHL if not claimed. If claimed, the Hurricanes are free of a $3.2 million commitment to a struggling #2 goalie. That makes for significant flexibility for Francis to pursue other short or long-term options. More likely, no one else takes the risk on Lack’s fairly expensive contract at which point, Lack could get some starts in Charlotte to try to build up his 2016-17 season. Best bet short-term is that Murphy stays on IR and possibly does a conditioning stint in Charlotte to buy some time.
10-Is this instead of a trade or other move for a long-term solution? Not at all. If I was Ron Francis, I would be exploring any and all options to get better in net. The name floating around most right now is Jaroslav Halak with the Islanders who seems to be the odd many out right now in a 3-goalie situation for the Islanders. Ben Bishop an Marc-Andre Fleury are still both expensive veterans for teams with younger alternatives and facing the prospect of being able to protect only 1 goalie in next summer’s expansion draft. But with salary cap considerations and also the fact that other general managers might try to take advantage of desperation, a trade could take awhile. In addition, as much as I think that the Hurricanes need to improve at the goalie position, I am not willing to pay any cost to nab the right player, so patience and negotiation might be in order.
When I net it out, what the Canes are doing right now is not working well. The team should explore any/all inexpensive and easy options to improve while also considering more complicated possibilities and also just patience. Michael Leighton is a low cost, low risk option.
What say you Canes fans? Is this just an outlandish idea doomed to fail if tried? Or after my ‘give Brett Pesce a try’ rants from last October could this become another wild but true foreboding of what is to come soon?