Not long ago, there was a belief among Buffalo Sabres fans – actually, looking back, it was probably more of a wish – a healthy and refreshed Ville Leino would succeed this season.
Sure, maybe the 30-year-old winger would never reach the lofty expectations of the ridiculous six-year, $27 million contract he signed July 1, 2011. But perhaps the Finn, with his hip repaired and a full season under new coach Ron Rolston, would get back to producing around 20 goals and 50 points.
Remember, Leino performed well during limited action last season, recording six points in eight games. This corner certainly thought he could be a solid point producer.
Well, seven games into his season, Leino, who has just one assist and one shot on goal – yes, he really has one shot, which he recorded Thursday – is already a healthy scratch. He sat Friday’s tilt against in Anaheim against the Ducks.
“We expect our veterans to be a big part of our team, and to this point he hasn’t been,” Rolston told reporters in Anaheim. “But I think that, obviously, it’s still there, and he’s missed a lot of hockey, to his defense, and I’m sure he’ll be back.”
The signing, of course, has been a disaster. He has 10 goals and 32 points in 86 games since inking the huge deal.
The Sabres briefly tried making Leino a center again. He didn’t mesh well with former coach Lindy Ruff. Having come from a looser dressing room in Philadelphia, his personality didn’t quite fit with his new teammates early on.
Leino has missed 49 of the last 66 games. Most of the optimism surrounding him vanished Oct. 3, when word spread he had cracked a rib hours earlier in the season opener.
Given his hefty contract and meager production, Leino’s probably untradeable. Instead, he’ll almost certainly get bought out this offseason. He’s lucky the rebuilding Sabres didn’t eat his contract during the recent buyout period.