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The Leino Signing: Analysis from Philadelphia

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By now, the UFA buzz in your brains should have cleared up.

It’s officially Summer for hockey fans.  Time to sit back, re-set our rosters on NHL ’11, and hunker down for what should be a quiet offseason from here on out (barring a sudden trade, of course).

It’s also a good time to re-visit the signing of UFA Ville Leino. Sabres fans are not convinced that we landed the true #1 center that we all wanted in Brad Richards, but the Sabres did manage to sign the second-highest scoring UFA on the market. He can play center, and should provide a good one-two punch at center with Derek Roy. He’s a player that we’re to feel very excited about, so at least we’ve been told:

”We felt very strongly about Ville, and we felt that it was important to make sure we didn’t allow a quality player like him to slip by us,” (Darcy) Regier said. ”He was someone we identified early and moved him to the top of the list.”

leinohalak1 300x225 The Leino Signing: Analysis from Philadelphia

It's Blue and Gold for Ville for the next 6 years.

Well then, what about our counterparts in Philadelphia? What do they think about the Leino signing? I dropped in on a few Philadelphia blogs to find that out, and once I survived that journey into that Heart of Darkness, the intel I brought back with me was both good and bad.

From “Broad Street Hockey:”

Ville Leino was a freakin’ deal the last two years. The Flyers resurrected his career, he turned into quite the offensive power in the 2010 playoffs, and then had a decent 2011 season in which we learned that he’s as one-dimensional as one-dimensional players get in the NHL.

We knew he was going to get a raise, and the Flyers were apparently willing to pay him a four year, $12 million contract (as reported by Frank Seravalli). They weren’t going over that, and damn, we should be thankful for that.

The Buffalo Sabres signed him to an unbelievably obscene six year, $27 million contract today. The deal was announced by the team and the details were reported by TSN. It’s overpayment in every sense of the word, and it’s $1.5 million more per year than the Flyers were willing to dish out. Can’t blame him for going after the money at all… but holy crap, Ville Leino is not worth that much money.

We loved the guy during his time here and it was fun while it lasted. Not upset about losing him when all is said and done, though. Everybody is overpaying this year, but think of it this way: Jaromir Jagr for one year at $3.3 million, or Ville Leino at $4.5 million for the next six?

Uh-oh. I think we all knew we overpaid for this guy, but when I see the phrase “he’s as one-dimensional as one-dimensional players get in the NHL,” I start to feel that nagging anxiety of “buyer’s remorse.”

From Nick Derence of “The Bleacher Report:”

There is only so much cap space to go around. So when the Buffalo Sabres offered Ville Leino a six-year, $27mil contract, the Flyers were forced to say farewell to the dependable two-way forward. The Sabres hope that Leino will take up the same clutch goal scoring role for them that he did playing against them during these past playoffs.

Oh, he’s a “dependable two-way forward.” Good. I feel better about that now.

From Travis Hughes, of “SB Nation:

Leino, the 27-year old native of Finland, was toiling away in obscurity back in the 2009-10 season with the Detroit Red Wings. A late season trade brought him to the Philadelphia Flyers, and on a line with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, Leino turned into a hero in Philly’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

The same chemistry with those two linemates wasn’t really there in the 2010-11 season, but Leino still managed to put up 19 goals and 34 assists in 81 games with the Flyers this past regular season. Flyers fans learned that he’s quite the one-dimensional player, as he started over 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive end of the ice, unable to be trusted with defensive zone minutes.

That’s why the money seems so high. Leino can score and has some of the best hands in the game, but that’s all he can do. Will it be worth it to the Sabres? It seems like any price is worth it to new owner Terry Pegula.

What? Which is it, Philly, good two-way or bad two-way? Stop jerkin’ us around! “One dimensional… 60%…unable…to be…trusted…” there’s that anxiety again.

buyersremorsepills 150x150 The Leino Signing: Analysis from Philadelphia

I need an rx. Is there a doctor in the house?

In order for Leino to be successful in Buffalo, he must produce – and not just in the offensive zone. The Sabres play a dogged “System” of hockey under Lindy Ruff, one that is focused on control of all three zones. While Leino has shown in the past that he can do this, he’s apparently shown more recently that he can be a liability in at least 40% of the ice surface. It won’t take long for this style of play to earn him a place in Ruff’s doghouse.

And then there goes that one-two punch.

If there is one stat that I have focused on since this surprise signing, however, it has been his playoff stats. 28 points in 37 career playoff games makes me feel much more confident and relaxed (even if one of those points was that goal he scored in the overtime of Game Six this past season, which pretty much ended our playoff hopes).

Another reassuring statistical pill is the fact that Leino put up a +14 over the regular season, despite the fact or opinion that he lost his two-way game somewhere in that stretch. That +14 would have been good enough for 2nd best on the Sabres, under the recently-departed Steve Montador’s +16. Drew Stafford was the forward closest in this category, at +13 (it’s pretty downhill from there).

It also helps to remember that bolstering the defense was one of the top priorities of Lindy Ruff in this offseason, and that was done in a huge way with the additions of Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff. Adding Leino (and subtracting Tim Connolly) feels more like a little bonus on top of that upgrade on the blueline.

We have to wait until October 7th until we find out which Leino emerges for Buffalo. There will be no excuses for him: he is just entering his physical prime and will have a larger role here than he did with the Flyers, who were overflowing with offensive talent last season.

Ville, here’s my advice for you:

  • Learn “The System.” Quickly.
  • Stay out of Lindy’s doghouse.
  • Help us get to the playoffs.
  • Go statistically crazy in the playoffs.
  • Help us win the Stanley Cup.
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“The Finnishing Line”

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You heard it here first (unless you follow me on Twitter, then you heard it there first).

That could be the most excellent name for a line including the Sabres newest Finns, Ville Leino and Joel Armia. Of course, the Sabres need to complete a transfer and a contract to get Armia across the pond, but he’ll be here sooner rather than later.

leinohalak 300x225 The Finnishing Line

Is it October 7th yet?

As we mused earlier, an addition of fellow Finn Teppo Numminen to the coaching staff could complete the trifecta, and give Lenio and Armia perhaps their best chance to succeed in Buffalo.

Armia The Finnishing Line

Get that "Armia's Army" banner ready for the 300 level.

As Regier has stated, we’re likely done in the UFA market, so we can all settle in and get ready for next season. Oh, and as for next season, I think Leino said it best as to what we are in for:

“To be honest with you I think they (Sabres) deserved to win (the playoff series). It will be a good fit for me. I think it’s going to be a good team in the future, a lot of young guys. They made some good adds, good defensemen lately. It’s a great hockey town, and I think we have a good chance to win next year. I’m really excited.”

Meanwhile, the Sabres’ additions of Regehr, Ehrhoff, Leino, and their re-sigining of Cody McCormick, puts their salary cap number at $66 million, above this year’s set limit of $64.3 million. They can remain over the cap by 10 percent% until the season opener. So maybe, we’re in for some more summer surprises through the trade market.

Darcy – well done, sir!

Go Sabres.

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Leino Stone Unturned

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You say goodbye, and I say hello.

It seems the Sabres are parting ways with center Tim Connolly, and saying “Hello, hello!” to his replacement, Ville Leino. (Sorry, the Beatles annoy me too. But TC annoyed us, so it seemed appropriate.)

Timmeh, thank you for your efforts. You fought through a lot of injuries in this town. Good luck to you.

Meanwhile, the Sabres also seemed to have passed on the perhaps mega-overpriced Brad Richards. That is probably a good business decision, considering the fact he is 31, coming off a concussion, and could undermine the Sabres ability to re-sign Myers and Ennis next year.

ville leino 300x189 Leino Stone Unturned

Photoshop this image into a blue and gold uniform, and add flames to the beard, and tell me you ain't excited.

Leino’s dry stats:

VLstatsties 300x112 Leino Stone Unturned

LW? WTF? (Click for larger image.)

53 points ain’t nothing to write momma about, if you want to talk #1 center – but Leino’s got game. Ken Holland (that GM who has won Detroit the Stanley Cup) called Leino one of the hardest cuts he ever had to make from the roster after training camp (citation required) before Ville was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Sabres fans would be wise to remember that Leino scored the OT winner in Game Six of the 1st Round of the 2011 playoffs between the two teams, a goal from which the Sabres never recovered.

Until now.

Leino is now ours. He may not be Brad Richards, or Spezza, Stastny, or even Joe Pavelski – but he is a Sabre. We now have our 1a and 1b centermen in Derek Roy and Ville Leino. But Pegula and the Sabres may not be done turning over stones to find their gems.

While the defense already features:

  • Regehr-Ehrhoff
  • Myers-Weber
  • Leopold-Gragnani
  • Sekera/McNabb/Pysyk/Schiestel

And the offense features:

  • Stafford-Roy-Vanek
  • Boyes-Leino-Ennis
  • Gerbe-McCormick-Pominville
  • Kaleta-Gaustad-Hecht

We might not be done yet, folks.  Note that glut at defense (which we’ve touched on before).

If you’re not convinced that we are now icing an upgraded unit at center, then look no further than to the trade fodder that is our crop of young stud defensemen to lure another body in.

For now, we already have Regehr, Ehrhoff, and Leino to celebrate and welcome. (Am I dreaming?) Oh, and it never hurts to add another Finn in Leino when you just drafted the Finnish Phenom-duu-jooouuur Joel Armia.

Tomorrow, well, who knows what to expect anymore. This whole Pegula-era has my head spinnin’ in his tail-winds. Still, I can smell another name coming our way in those cool breezes.

Go Sabres.

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