The subject of question #11, Ville Leino #23 of the Buffalo Sabres. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
At this rate, the Buffalo Sabres medical staff will be in line for a hefty raise in remuneration come the end of the season. Losing a home game against a division rival despite leading going into the third period already reopened a gash that has been laid bare a few times already this season. To top it off, salt got rubbed into the wound with the news that Ville Leino will now be out for a few weeks with an as-yet-undetermined lower body injury
Speaking of Leino, he is the focus of today's question - this should make for some heated commenting and enthralling reading, after the jump.
#11 - What role is Ville Leino best suited for on the Sabres?
Leino has had a tough start to his time here in Buffalo. Signed in free agency in the offseason, he was heralded as the new top six center that this team has lacked for years, despite never having really played the position in the NHL while with the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers. Leino turned 28 at the beginning of this season, and hit it big in the contract stakes with a six-year, $4.5 million per year deal. This move was widely seen as a Hail Mary gamble - if Leino shined as a center the Sabres management would be feted as visionary, and if he flopped in the role then they would be vilified for overspending on an unproven commodity.
His tenure at center lasted only a few games and was an unmitigated disaster. That is really saying a lot when you consider that this is the same Sabres squad where Jochen Hecht is a first line center and even rookie Luke Adam succeeded for some time with the top six. He seemed to find his way a little after that, away from the spotlight in the lower lines.
Over the last few games he has been playing quite well, forming a good partnership with rookies Adam and Zack Kassian in a Sabres version of the third line, and has scored five points in the last seven games. After the injury to Nathan Gerbe, it appears coach Lindy Ruff abandoned his checking line and rolled out three (potentially) scoring lines, and a bits n' pieces trio with Marc-Andre Gragnani at left wing - Sabres fans will undoubtedly be having flashbacks of Nathan Paetsch, and look how that seasons-long experiment turned out.
With 29 games played, Leino has 3 G & 7 A, with only one of those points coming on the power play - quite a surprise since his slick hands were supposed to be a boon for the special teams units. Leino hangs on to the puck for way too long, passing up on shooting opportunities that eventually fizzle out into nothing. It's saying something when defensive pivot Paul Gaustad has the same number of total shots as him. However he has drastically cut down on his turnovers and even leads the team in takeaways. His -7 rating is a team-low, but I'm not sure what to make of it because Gragnani is second on the team in the giveaways category and yet leads the team with a +11!
Less than half a season is not enough time to make any long-term proclamations about a player, but at the same time we have seen enough to ask a few questions. Can we do something different with Leino to get more out of him? What is he best suited to do on this current squad? How can he contribute more this season?