Most of the time it is a lot easier to perform as a player when expectations are low. When you are not expected to turn water into wine, or when fans have to quickly rifle through their program to figure out who you are, that usually means as long as you don’t burn down the arena you can escape major scrutiny. 


That is the type of solitude Ville Leino enjoyed early in his career. 


Up until the 2009-10 Stanley Cup playoffs, Leino played in parts of two seasons with the Red Wings and Flyers, and did nothing of fantasy relevance. In fact, he was still technically a rookie during the Flyers run to the final that year when he all of a sudden exploded for 21 points in 19 playoff games. 


Despite the plethora of production on the biggest stage, I’m sure poolies as well as Flyers fans were cautiously optimistic.  It’s not all that unusual for a player to be a flash in the pan only to be remembered by the phrase, “Hey, who was that guy who had that great postseason and then fell off the face of the earth?”


Leino, however, followed that up with a respectable 53 points in 2010-11 and really started turning some heads.  He became a UFA after that season and new Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, perhaps trying to overcompensate for years of penny pinching in Western New York, gave him a six-year $27M deal.  So much for low expectations. 


In 2011-12 the pressure was squarely on Leino to produce and he struggled mightily to say the least.  His point totals dropped by more than 50% as he went from 53 to 25.  As rock and roll legends Oasis once so eloquently put it, where did it all go wrong?


Well for starters, Leino really relied on the power play during his breakout season as he notched 11 points in that area with Philly in 2010-11.  Last season he was only able to muster up one measly power point on the campaign.  Probably because his power play time per game dropped by over a minute from 2:18 down to 1:03 this year with the Sabres. 


His faceoff percentage dropped drastically as well when he arrived in Buffalo.  He was second on the Flyers in percentage with 57.4, but that number dropped all the way down to 41.3% with the Sabres.


Rank Player Pos Team Won Lost Total ↑ Win%
1 ROY, DEREK C BUF 672 657 1329 50.6
2 GAUSTAD, PAUL C BUF 495 376 871 56.8
3 POMINVILLE, JASON R BUF 179 196 375 47.7
4 ENNIS, TYLER L BUF 145 171 316 45.9
5 HECHT, JOCHEN C BUF 136 164 300 45.3
6 HODGSON, CODY C BUF 152 144 296 51.4
7 BOYES, BRAD R BUF 126 141 267 47.2
8 ADAM, LUKE C BUF 114 145 259 44
9 ELLIS, MATT L BUF 117 127 244 48
10 LEINO, VILLE C BUF 95 135 230 41.3


You may be thinking that a big reason for Leino’s struggles was a drop off in talent around him in Buffalo.  This is not necessarily the case.  While Leino did benefit from playing with Scott Hartnell and Daniel Briere regularly in Philly, in Buffalo he played with Derek Roy and Jason Pominville most frequently.  Not only that, but Pominville had his second best statistical season ever with 73 points.


Frequency Strength Line Combination


Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate Leino’s struggles is by using the caphit per point stat.  In 2010-11 with Philly he ranked second on the squad next to Claude Giroux and 11th in the entire NHL, costing the team just over $15,000 per point.


Rank Player Pos Team GP Pts Caphit Cost/Pnt
1 GIROUX, CLAUDE R PHI 82 76 821667 10811
2 KOSTITSYN, SERGEI L NSH 77 50 550000 11000
3 PARENTEAU, PIERRE R NYI 81 53 600000 11321
4 NIELSEN, FRANS C NYI 71 44 525000 11932
5 D'AGOSTINI, MATT R STL 82 46 550000 11957
6 SANTORELLI, MICHAEL C FLA 82 41 600000 14634
7 BICKELL, BRYAN L CHI 78 37 541666 14640
8 BENN, JAMIE L DAL 69 56 821667 14673
9 PURCELL, EDWARD R T.B 81 51 750000 14706
10 BOYLE, BRIAN C NYR 82 35 525000 15000
11 LEINO, VILLE C PHI 81 53 800000 15094


In 2011-12 after signing that new deal with the Sabres he was 19th on the team in that area and was costing them $180,000 per point. 


Rank Player Pos Team GP Pts Caphit Cost/Pnt
16 KASSIAN, ZACK R BUF 27 7 870000 124286
17 LEOPOLD, JORDAN D BUF 79 24 3000000 125000
17 EHRHOFF, CHRISTIAN D BUF 66 32 4000000 125000
18 SZCZECHURA, PAUL C BUF 9 4 525000 131250
19 LEINO, VILLE C BUF 71 25 4500000 180000
20 WEBER, MIKE D BUF 51 5 950000 190000


In hindsight, Philly management appears to have made the right move by letting Leino move on.  A guy like Matt Read has filled the void that Leino left for a lot less money.  Buffalo is now stuck with an overpaid player who is seriously under performing.  Of course Leino could still turn things around in the future, but it would have to be something pretty special to justify that contract.  This is just another cautionary tale of giving big money long-term deals to unproven players.  The Flyers may have just executed a shrewd move of addition by subtraction.     

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bullwinkle said:

... Here in Buffalo Leino is the poster boy for the "We'll never win The Cup" crowd. He flies in the face of Pegula's prediction that we will have a Cup contender in three (now two) years. Fears are that we will have to buy him out at some point or demote him to the AHL. Trading him to someone else is all but impossible - but hey, isn't that how we re-acquired Kotalik?

August 03, 2012
Votes: +0

Pengwin7 said:

Good write-up Overall, Leino just isn't an NHL center.
He's not a #1 on a line and he's soft too... so the line needs some grit.

Playing wing on a line with a guy like Hartnell was an ideal spot for him.
Buffalo's best bet is to find that line again, put Leino on the RW with some grit at C or LW. Perhaps this is where the acquisition of Steve Ott fits in.
August 03, 2012
Votes: +1
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