The Winter Classic’s top fantasy question: Is Leighton legit?

Flyers goalie Michael Leighton -- depicted here in Ducks gear -- has won four road games in a row. Is he a fantasy fluke?

The hype surrounding the 2010 Winter Classic makes it easy to overlook the game’s most vexing fantasy question: Is Flyers goalie Michael Leighton — winner of his last four and Philly’s starting pipe-man on New Year’s Day — a legit, long-term fantasy commodity?

First things first: Leighton has already proven himself as a short-term commodity. So grab him in your leagues while you still can.

As I type on New Year’s Eve, Leighton is owned in only 2.2 percent of ESPN leagues and 8 percent of Yahoo! formats. That is bound to change if he performs decently on national TV in a game that may garner higher ratings than the Stanley Cup Finals.

Look at it this way: If Leighton shits the bed Jan. 1, you can always drop him Jan. 2. If he plays well, you may miss your chance to add him.

So: Is Leighton legit for the long term? Here’s the case for Leighton, followed by the case against him.

Leighton is legit because:

  • He has won four straight on the road, including a 6-0 shutout Dec. 30 at the Rangers.
  • His save percentage in all four wins: 1.000 at the Rangers; .966 at the Islanders on Dec. 27; .925 at Carolina on Dec. 26; and .939 at Tampa on Dec. 23. Numbers like that win fantasy titles. Stats like that are why Leighton is’s highest rated goalie over the last seven days.
  • He allowed three or fewer goals in all four games. In addition to shutting out the Rangers, he allowed one goal at the Isles, three at Carolina and two at Tampa.
  • The Flyers’ starting goalie, whoever it is, can help any fantasy squad in the wins category. This is especially true with the return to health of LW Simon Gagne, whose hat trick was a terrific sign for Philly’s offense. The Flyers have so much firepower that their netminders are always in play for victories.

Leighton is not legit because:

  • His recent competition has been weak. Carolina (15th), the Islanders (13th), the Lightning (11th) and the Rangers (10th) are not in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Bruins (5th) are Leighton’s first true test.
  • His recent competition also stinks at offense. Carolina (2.42 goals per game, 28th), the Islanders (2.32, 30th) and the Lightning (2.42, tied with Carolina for 28th) are, in fact, the three worst scoring teams in the NHL. The Rangers (2.61, 20th) are not much better. Of course, here we should note that the Bruins (2.46, 25th) have hardly set the world aflame. (In fact, Boston has scored two or fewer goals in four of its last six. Both games in which the Bruins scored more than two goals were against the Thrashers.)
  • His previous flashes of brilliance have amounted to nothing. Last season with Carolina, Leighton stonewalled the Capitals 3-1 on Dec. 7 (save percentage: .974). The previous day, Leighton lost 2-1 in overtime vs. the Flyers (save percentage: .935). It was the last time all season Leighton would yield fewer than three goals in a start. For what it’s worth, Leighton also played well at the end of 2003-04 with the Blackhawks. In his final two starts, he posted save percentages of .951 (stopping 39 of 41) and .953 (41 of 43), earning 2-2 ties vs. Phoenix and at Colorado.

Still, make no mistake: The proper fantasy move is to roster Leighton as soon as you can. Great goalies win fantasy titles, and savvy owners will take risks to pluck them from the waiver wire.

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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