BOSTON — This decision figured to be a no-brainer: When Michael Leighton was healthy and returned from his AHL rehab stint, the Flyers would try to send Brian Boucher through waivers and to the Adirondack Phantoms.
Leighton, the projected starter until back surgery opened the door for rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, would be the No. 2, and Boucher would gently be pushed out of the picture.
That seemed like the best option as Leighton works his way toward rejoining the Flyers.
But because of Boucher's solid play — plus his upbeat personality, his mentoring of Bobrovsky, and his strong locker-room presence — it's not such an easy choice.
Bobrovsky is among the NHL leaders in several categories and is the Flyers' goalie of the future, no question. The question is, who should be No. 2?
When you consider that injuries caused the Flyers to dress seven goalies last season, the magnitude of picking the right No. 2 — and potentially losing the No. 3 goaltender on waivers — becomes magnified.
Boucher has played admirably despite being used sporadically. There may be a more difficult job in hockey than being a backup goalie, but it's hard to think of any. It's not easy staying sharp when you sometimes don't start for a few weeks, but Boucher has been consistent. He had a 2.40 goals-against average and .911 save percentage before starting his second straight game on Saturday night against the Bruins.
Those numbers aren't far from Bobrovsky's (2.29, .922).
With those numbers, it almost seems a disservice to label Boucher as a backup because they are better than a lot of teams' starters.
Boucher, who will turn 34 on Jan. 2, has the perfect temperament to serve as Bobrovsky's caddie and mentor. Easygoing and quick with a quip, he doesn't let his lack of playing time affect his work ethic.
"It's one of those things where if you know what your role is, you look at the schedule and see when there may be a chance to play and you prepare for those games," Boucher said. "I think it's something I've been able to do in the latter half of my career. To me, it's not really an issue whether you sit for 10 games or three games. Obviously, when you go months, it can be a bit more difficult, but in a role like this, it's not really that difficult."
Remember, this is the guy who set an NHL record with five straight shutouts for Phoenix in 2003-04. This is the guy who saved the Flyers' season — and propelled them to their Stanley Cup Finals run — with his shoot-out win in the last game of 2009-10 regular season. This is the guy who outplayed the great Martin Brodeur in last season's Eastern Conference quarterfinals against New Jersey.
And, so, yes, it would be easy for Boucher to gripe about getting just eight starts in this season's first two-plus months.
Instead, he has been a good soldier, and he has helped Bobrovsky with his counseling.
Leighton, a waiver-wire wonder last season who signed a two-year $3.1 million deal with the Flyers in the summer, was with Adirondack this weekend as part of his rehab. His left leg has been causing him some pain, so there is a chance that, even after he returns from his rehab stint this week, he will remain on the long-term injured list for a while longer.
When Leighton joins the Flyers, they probably will keep three goalies on the roster — "not an ideal situation," general manager Paul Holmgren conceded Friday — until they are convinced he is 100 percent healthy. That day may not be far away. When it arrives, the Flyers might try to slip Boucher through waivers and to the Phantoms.
"We know what the situation is, but to be honest with you, I'm just worried about working every day and getting ready to play," said Boucher, who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season. "That's all I can control. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen, and you can't worry about that."
Leighton, at 29, has more upside than Boucher, and more trade value if his back and leg are sound. After being plucked off reentry waivers and working with goaltending coach Jeff Reese last season, Leighton raised his level of play until the Stanley Cup Finals.
If Bobrovsky were sidelined for a long time with an injury, the Flyers would be in capable hands with a healthy Leighton. Then again, the same can be said about the guy they affectionately call Boosh.
In most instances, having three goalies on a roster for several months is not optimal. It cuts down the amount of practice time each goalie receives, takes a roster spot away from a forward or defenseman, and limits moves because of the cap space that is absorbed.
In this case, though, the Flyers would be wise to keep three goalies for a while. If Leighton were to have a relapse — or if Bobrovsky were injured — the Flyers would kick themselves if Boucher weren't waiting in the wings.
Read Sam Carchidi's Flyers blog, "Broad Street Bull," at www.philly.com/flyers.
Subject: Bobrovsky getting beat on high shots.
Posted 12:21 p.m., December 10, 2010