I feel like it was pretty obvious what I would be writing about this week. One of my all-time favorite Flyers (and your most loved Flyer) returned to Philadelphia to once again don the Orange and Black sweater. That man, of course, is #12, Simon Gagne.
My love goes back to my years in high school. I recall reading about Gagne and how he would be the “next superstar” in Philadelphia. Although Gagne never gained “superstar status,” he was a star in the NHL. At just 33 years of age, Gagne – barring health issues – can continue to be a contributor in the NHL, and currently with the Flyers.
As we know, Gagne has had a flair for the dramatic while playing for Philadelphia. Whether it was coming back from a foot injury in the 2010 playoffs to scoring the winning goal in one of the most improbable comebacks versus the Boston Bruins, or scoring a goal in the Stanley Cup Finals, Gagne brought with him leadership and energy. Was it any doubt that Gagne would score upon his return to Philadelphia?
As one of the Flyers most beloved returned home, the Flyers sent one of their most controversial players away. Michael Leighton was placed on waivers yesterday. Leighton played in two NHL games over the last three seasons and collected $4 million (h/t to Nina G). Leighton will go down in Philadelphia lore as the scapegoat of the Flyers Stanley Cup run of 2010. But let us not forget, without Leighton, the Flyers may not have even made the playoffs.
In 2009, the Flyers, banking on “Razor” Ray Emery to solve their goaltending woes, would lose Emery to a hip injury. Enter the Leighton.
Leighton would come to Philadelphia via waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes. He played in 27 games for the Flyers, starting 26 of them. Leighton did not play adequate hockey, but, pressed into service, he played stellar hockey to the tune of a 2.48 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage, while posting a 16-5-2 record. The Flyers rode a red-hot Leighton until a high-ankle sprain knocked him out of the lineup until the playoffs.
It was not until the infamous Bruins series that Leighton was thrust back into the Philadelphia spotlight. In Game Five’s shutout of the Bruins, Brian Boucher suffered sprained MCLs in both knees and Leighton replaced him. The Flyers would go on to win that series 4-3 after being down 3-0 in the series and 3-0 in the decisive game seven.
Leighton would then lead the Flyers passed the Montreal Canadiens in five games while posting three shutouts in the series. His playoff stats were outstanding; Leighton played in 14 games with a 2.46 goals against, .916 save percentage and was 8-3 with three shutouts. But it was one fluke goal that tore Leighton down from the mountaintop.
As we welcome Simon Gagne back to town and send Michael Leighton back to exile in Adirondack, let us not forget that both of these men played a crucial role in the Flyers 2010 run. Let us remember the effort, leadership, and accountability they both displayed. As we cheer every save the 51 million dollar goaltender makes, cheer a little bit harder knowing that Leighton has probably played his last game in Philadelphia.
This is Philadelphia. This is a place where we respect and love a blue-collar effort. Michael Leighton gave nothing but his best. Let’s remember that Michael Leighton saved the Flyers season when the Flyers had nowhere left to turn. So, as we laud the great Simon Gagne on his return, remember to laud the catalyst of the Flyers 2010 team in Michael Leighton too.