Growing up a Buffalo sports fan, you quickly learn that, if you want to survive in the world of Sabres or Bills fan-dom, you need a never-ending supply of hope. You've gotta think that this year might be different, just so you can avoid turning into a giant hate-monster. Eventually, you end up talking yourself into believing that, if everything falls into place, this team might actually be good.
It may just be the summer heat addling our brains, but today, I'm going to try and talk myself into believing that Ville Leino will be a vital part of the Sabres offense next year.
Okay, let's take a big breath, and dive headfirst into the deep end.
Sabres fans didn't get to see much of Ville Leino last season - he played only eight games thanks to a hip injury, but he did manage six points in those eight games. Extrapolate that into a full season and Leino was on pace for 62 points! (Okay, that might be going
a bit way too far. Still, it was nice to see during those eight games.)
So let's go back to the 2011-12 season, when Buffalonians got to see 71 games out of the high-priced Finn. Leino had a disappointing campaign from an offensive perspective, with just 25 points, but as WGR's Matthew Coller points out in this May 2012 article, Leino was used much differently by Lindy Ruff than he was during his high-flying days in Philadelphia:
Leino scored 11 points in 2010-11 when averaging more than twice the power play ice time. This season he scored just one point on the power play for the Sabres. His power play production was non-existent largely because he was never on the ice during 5-on-4 situations.
Another glaring 5-on-5 problem was that Leino started in the offensive zone less, down 7.8 percent from his standout year and nearly 20 percent from his outstanding 2010 playoffs.
Let's say Ron Rolston give Leino some real power play time (very likely, considering the lack of talented offensive forwards on the roster) and does a bit more juggling with his offensive zone starts than Ruff did, couldn't you see Leino having a nice bounce back year?
Of course, more power play time and offensive zone starts would help any player's point production, but there's a big reason why Leino deserves that promotion, and it has to do with puck possession.
When you look at Leino's relative Corsi number (which tells us how many more SOG, blocked and missed shots the Sabres threw at the net while he was on the ice versus off the ice, thus implying increased possession) from the 2011-12 season, it turns out that he finished second on the team behind Cody McCormick. Seeing as how he was one of only nine players with a positive Corsi number that year (a reflection of just how bad the Sabres were at possessing the puck) and five of those aforementioned nine players aren't even on the team any more, then yeah, I'd say it's pretty important to prioritize and give more ice time to players who excel at puck possession, which Leino does.
I'm not saying Leino will suddenly turn in to Pavel Datsyuk simply because he has good possession numbers, or even that he'll ever live up to his oversized contract, but after considering the facts, couldn't you talk yourself into Leino being a very important part of Buffalo's offense next year?