Remember when the Buffalo Sabres introduced new owner Terry Pegula in 2011? And he said the Sabres were going to win a Stanley Cup, and then another one after that? And how, during his first offseason as owner, the team threw out big money contracts like candy? Contracts such as the ten-year, $40 million deal they gave defenseman Christian Erhoff, or perhaps the six-year, $27 million deal to forward Ville Leino? Good times had by a team on the upswing.
Of course, this wasn’t the case at all. Buffalo hasn’t made the playoffs since, and while Erhoff has seen his points dip since coming over from the Vancouver Canucks, Leino has been a wreck. His first season in Buffalo, after spending a couple years with the Philadelphia Flyers, saw his points get cut in half. Last year he only played eight games. This season, he has zero goals in 18 games played. These stats are frustrating enough as it is. Consider the fact that he’s set to make $4.5 million a year until 2017, and you’d like to think there’s a lot of face-palming occurring in the Buffalo front office.
Leino’s 2011 signing made sense strictly in a “flashy move” perspective, and that’s about it. Pegula was taking the reins of a franchise that had yet to win a Cup, and he wanted an impatient fan base to see he meant business. What better way to catch the fans attention than throwing out expensive new deals and luring big-name players over?
Actually, a more important question would be why Leino would be considered a big-name player in the first place? Yes, he was coming off a 53 point season with the Flyers. The year before that, four points in 13 games. Before that? Seven points in 42 games with the Detroit Red Wings. So, to review, in a three year window Leino had an unproductive stint in Detroit, a season short of appearances with the Flyers followed by a solid, 50+ point year. I’m not a cap expert, but is that a stat sheet you throw $27 million at?
It appears the Sabres are expected to admit defeat in the near future when it comes to their investment in Leino. He’s been made a healthy scratch by coach Ted Nolan, and it’s not exactly the first time that he’s been sent to the press box. Now, it’s looking like the Sabres will use one of their buyouts to remove Leino’s contract from their books.
Can you blame them? How do you tell your supporters, who are enduring yet another bottom-barrel season, that Leino is somehow worth keeping, thus locking up a decent chunk of cap space and preventing offseason signings? Ten goals in three seasons doesn’t exactly scream, “let’s wait and see what he can do.”
The Sabres have had plenty of time, and unfortunately, they’ve seen all they need to see. By cutting ties with Leino, not only will they be expressing their disappointment, they’ll also be learning a lesson in doing some more research on who you’re throwing a ton of money at.