Buffalo - June 18, 2014 - It began with a bang and ended with a whimper, but Ville Leino’s career in Buffalo is mercifully over.
To the surprise of no one, the Buffalo Sabres released the 30-year-old on Monday, using one of their two compliance buyouts to wipe out the last three years of a six-year/$27 million deal signed before the 2011-12 season.
There was much fanfare for the young Finn as the season neared. He was coming off of a stellar 19 goal, 53 point effort with the Philadelphia Flyers and seemed to offer versatility to a Sabres team that was in need of an extra boost offensively. More importantly, though, the signing signified something bigger. It showed that the new ownership group, led by Terry Pegula, was making real efforts to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo. No more talk about how hard the team was trying; we could see the effort with the money being spent. This was new territory.
Unfortunately, Leino could never live up to the hype. He stumbled his way to just eight goals and 25 points in 71 games his first year in Buffalo, missed all but eight games his second year and then managed to put up a big fat goose egg in the goal column in 58 miserable games last season.
Plagued by indecisiveness and injuries, Leino could never really get a foot hold in Buffalo. Puck possession was his game, but he would routinely hold the puck for far too long, coughing it up or making a bonehead play instead of using the deft skills he had shown the year before signing in Buffalo.
And as talented as Leino may be, once he started sliding downhill, it became nearly impossible for him to make the trek back up. Soon, the Buffalo fan base and media started to pile on and it was the end of the line for Leino in the blue and gold.
Though many saw this coming a mile away, there was still some talk that Leino could be kept on for one more year in an effort to reach the salary cap floor of $52 million for the 2014-15 season. With the buyout of Leino, they will need to spend $17.5 million to reach that floor. Sure, they have to re-sign names like Tyler Ennis, Cory Conacher, Marcus Foligno and Chad Ruhwedel, but it will likely require a few free agent signings to get to that point.
Regardless of where he suits up, the Sabres will still be paying Leino for the forseeable future. Here’s a breakdown of what the team will owe him between next season and 2020:
Though he’ll still be receiving NHL money, it may be tough for Leino to find an actual NHL job next year unless he is willing to take something closer to the league minimum. He’s as damaged goods as they come thanks to injuries and massive disappointment. A likely option for Leino could be heading back to Finland where he could join his former team Jokerit, which is slated to join the KHL next season.
It was about as rough of a three years as a player can experience, but thankfully for us all, it’s finally in the rearview mirror.