For the second consecutive week, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis pulled a veteran player into the Canes fold heading into training camp.
Last week saw a head scratcher that added veteran instigator Raffi Torres signed to a player try out contract. I voted ‘no’ in my post addressing that signing.
Today, the team announced that it had signed veteran AHL and NHL goalie Michael Leighton to a 1-year, 2-way contract that will pay him $700,000 at the NHL level and $250,000 at the AHL level. The 35-year old goalie is familiar to the organization from the 2 1/2 seasons between the 2007-08 and 2009-10 seasons.
I think the deal makes sense not so much for filling one big, specific need but rather because it fills a number of minor needs. If you hopped on Twitter this afternoon, I already wrote most of this in Twitter-sized bites, but here it is again for those who were heads down at work or school or just away from Twitter this afternoon.
First, important to note is that the cost was modest. Leighton was signed to a 2-way contract that is inexpensive at the NHL level and pays him a modest veteran premium at the AHL level. The 2-way nature of the contract means that Leighton will be paid an appropriate price whether he slots at the NHL or AHL level which is important.
Michael Leighton at the NHL level
#3 for the NHL bench in case of injury
In terms of building the 2016-17 NHL roster, Leighton should be considered a #3 for Raleigh especially in the event that 1 of the 2 primary goalies gets injured, and a third is needed mostly to sit on the bench in case of emergency at the NHL level. Either Daniel Altshuller Alex Nedeljkovic was previously slotted as the call up if the Canes needed to reach to #3 because of an injury. Because of these players’ age and stage of development, both need to play regularly to continue their development, so it would be far from ideal to have either sitting on the bench in Raleigh. Leighton provides a ready and also NHL-experienced backup if needed to fill a gap.
Ready back fill option in the event of a goalie trade
If/when injuries occur in the NHL, Francis might want to explore the possibility of helping out by trading 1 of his 2 goalies (most likely Lack) to get back to having only 1 goalie paid at a starter (or at least low starter) level. Having an experienced NHL netminder at the ready in Charlotte makes it easier to trade a goalie and have some time to figure out the longer term solution to filling the #2 slot.
Another option to compete for the #2 slot
I think another angle that might be overlooked is the possibility that Leighton could challenge for the #2 slot at the NHL level at some point. I would not expect this to happen in preseason unless, he is just lights out, but if he gets a short-term call up because of injury, he gets the chance to be the hot hand that keeps starting until he cools. At 35 years old Leighton is past his prime, but he has had some runs in the NHL starter’s crease, so it is possible it happens again.
Michael Leighton at the AHL level
Leighton also brings some benefits down at the AHL level even if he is never pressed into service at the NHL level.
Help spreading minor league starts
Before signing Leighton, the Hurricanes had only 4 professional level goalies. The result was that both Nedeljkovic and Altshuller were inevitably destined for the AHL and a split of starts. On the one hand, Leighton adds another goalie to the mix and actually takes some starts, but he also makes it possible to better use starts available at the ECHL level. It is now possible that 1 of Nedeljkovic or Altshuller can get regular work with the Florida Everblades while the other gets regular work with the Charlotte Checkers.
At 35 years old, Leighton has the potential to be a mentor and almost another coach for young Daniel Altshuller and Alex Nedeljkovic to learn from. As noted above, Francis should have a pretty good read on Leighton’s personality from his time with the Hurricanes awhile back. And exactly what his role was expected to be was certainly part of the conversation that preceded his signing. At 35 years old this might actually be a transition point for Leighton where he gets paid as a player but starts to gain some experience teaching that could be leveraged if he wants to eventually make the jump to the coaching ranks.
Playoff help for Charlotte
Like the Hurricanes, the Checkers are now a couple years removed from the playoffs. Adding a high-end AHL goalie even if he is a #2 boosts the Charlotte roster and gives the team a better chance to make the playoffs. Experiencing playoff hockey even at the AHL level is a valuable part of the development of young players.
While this was not a blockbuster on par with the Kris Versteeg/Joakim Nordstrom deal that happened about this time last fall, I like the Michael Leighton move today to provide depth and flexibility both in terms of the NHL roster and the development of the young players at the AHL level.