It wasn’t too long ago, when Terry Pegula took over as owner of the Buffalo Sabres. And after an early exit from the playoffs that same year, Pegula made it quite clear that changes would be made. An offseason that Sabres fans won’t soon forget, was in the midst of occurring.
Just days after trading for the gritty Robyn Regehr, the Sabres gave defenseman Christian Ehrhoff an enormous 10 year, 40 million dollar deal. A short 24 hours later, Finnish sniper Ville Leino was inked to a 6 year, 27 million dollar contract. Leino and was regarded as one of the top available free agents, and to say the least, the beginning of the Pegula era was full of hope and optimism.
Fast forward 21 months, and take a look at where the Sabres are now. Our thoughts on Leino have most likely changed. Leino went from being an underrated, dominating, clutch playoff performer; to an overpaid and lazy player. To put it nicely, Leino has been a great disappointment in his short time with the blue and gold. With just 31 points in 79 games, it would be easy to make the assumption that Leino should be bought out, however, there are some reasons why he deserves to stick with the Sabres.
First of all, has Leino ever been fully healthy in the last two years? Other than the adjustment period at the beginning of last year; a broken foot, and some minor injuries in his first season, may have been reflection his below average play. Followed up by a sever hip injury, and currently an upper body injury, allowing Leino to play in just 8 games this season, which may have also had an effect on his play. Leino has been hampered by injury after injury in his time in Buffalo. It would make complete sense to give Leino one more year to prove himself that he is worthy of the big money. Wait till he is 100%, and then we can judge him on his play.
It was reported at the beginning of training camp, that Leino had developed some chemistry with rookie Mikhail Grigorenko. It was highly unfortunate that we never got to see the two forwards play together. Grigorenko lacked confidence in his time up with the Sabres, and having Leino around would have benefited the rookie. It’s hard not to imagine where the Sabres would be in the standings right about now if that scenario would have had an opportunity to play out.
It was only a short 8 games, but Leino’s play this year looked much improved over what it was last season. He showed signs of his dominating possession in the corners, showcasing his speed while also regaining his scoring touch. He accumulated 6 points in 8 games, which is a good place to start for the winger. However, it was only eight games, but I’m sure Sabres fans had to like what they saw from the Fin.
It is still yet to be seen what Sabres management will do with Ville Leino in the offseason. If it was up to me, I would give the forward every opportunity to prove himself, and help a Sabres team desperate to make the playoffs. Darcy Regier will have yet another tough decision to make this offseason, one that he cannot afford to miss on.