Ville Leino isn't exactly the name that comes to mind when you're trying to think of Darcy Regier's best signings. At his cap hit of over four million, he's been critiqued often in his two years as a Sabre. Leino, who was Buffalo's consolation prize after not being able to land Brad Richards in free agency, has only scored ten goals since signing that deal. All that being said, it's not time to give up on him entirely just yet.
If we've learned anything about Leino the past two years, it's that he probably shouldn't be playing center. Brought in at a time when Buffalo was in great need of some guys down the middle, the Sabres brass led us to believe he could be formidable at the position despite not having played it since before he entered the NHL. Now, it seems that the Sabres have an over abundance of centers, so he'll be able to return to where he's most comfortable.
You can certainly toss up his first year as quite the flop. There are plenty of excuses, the position change being one of them. Some say its just difficult to adjust to a Lindy Ruff system. Whatever the case, that obviously wasn't the best post-free agency year a player has ever had.
Then last season came along, in which Leino missed a majority of the year with a multitude of injuries, including a collapsed lung. Yet, when he did return at the end of the year, it almost felt like he was starting to get that spark again with six points in eight games. That didn't translate to the win column, but it felt like he was starting to get into the right positions. There were many nights where it felt like Leino could have scored a couple more goals.
Sure, six points wasn't what most fans were hoping for out of Leino, but when you factor in that he only played eight games that sounds a lot better. We only saw a glimpse of Leino, and it was decently successful. Is it really smart to buy him out before finding out if there's possibly a little more?
It seems like ancient history now, but this is the same guy who was very successful with Danny Briere during his last season in Philadelphia. A guy who struck fear into Sabres fans when they matched up with Philly in the playoffs. Maybe there's still a little of that left now that he's healthy and playing where he's best.
This year is about learning what some of the team's young players have in them, but veterans shouldn't be excluded. If this is a toss away season, a year to play your young guns and possibly get a top pick, there really isn't much to lose. It isn't like they'd be bringing in a pricey free agent that would put the team in a bad position thanks to Leino's big cap hit, or that there are that many other players worthy of our time. If Leino can get back to the level he was at before, it will certainly be worth the wait. If not, well, there's always next year to buy him out too.