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Vulgar Statistics: Acquisitions By The Numbers: Ville Leino

07/04/11
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While ransacking my house for food that doesn’t need to be heated, I decided that I’m going to take a look at each player the Sabres acquire this offseason.  Since I find him to be the most curious, I’m starting with Ville Leino.

So the Sabres decided that Ville Leino was worth $27 Million over six years ($4.5M per) for 30 career goals and 43 career assists in 149 career games, 19 and 34 of which respectively came last season.  There’s also the somewhat significant fact that he happens to have 10 goals and 18 assists in 37 career playoff games, 7 and 14 of which respectively came during the Flyers Stanley Cup run.

Lindy Ruff has said that he’d like Leino to fill one of our center positions.  Leino, crypically listed as just a forward on most hockey sites, came up through the ranks as a center, having been transitioned to wing while playing for Jokerit in the Finnish SM-liiga.  While his statistical history may be a bit underwhelming, Leino was once referred to by Red Wings coach Mike Babcock as “the best player I ever sent to the minors” when salary cap issues caused him to send Leino to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  So he has that going for him…which is nice.

Leino is one of those players who’s been a winner at every level.  He took his Finnish team (HPK) to it’s first SM-liiga championship while leading them in scoring.  Leino continued his Finnish successes at Jokerit where be broke their franchise record for points in a single season, finishing second overall in scoring.  He scored in his first NHL game, and was a force to be reckoned with in the 2009-2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, tying or breaking rookie records for playoff points, assists, and Cup Finals assists.

What we have is a curiosity.  A 27 year old with one decent NHL season, transitioning back into a position that he hasn’t played in four years with the same cap hit that Tim Connolly has had for the past several seasons.  When playing center for HPK in Finland, Leino amassed 23 goals and 60 assists for 83 points in 106 games.  I know that we typically see every non-NHL league as inferior, but the SM-liiga is a difficult place to play.  Those numbers are solid.  With shooters like Vanek and Stafford, a center that likes dishing the puck is just what the doctor ordered.  Adding to the upside is the fact that Leino was 78-58 taking draws last season.  The Sabres have been desperately seeking a top six center that can win faceoffs.  If Leino can keep those numbers above 50% when extended to a full season, he’ll be a huge upgrade over Derek Roy and Tim Connolly in that area and the team won’t have to hamper itself by putting Paul Gaustad out to win key draws in the offensive zone.

Final Thoughts:

I understand that $4.5M is a lot to pay for potential, but look at it this way; he’s replacing Tim Connolly.  He might end up a bit below Connolly in terms of production, but he comes with none of the softness, injury issues, or attitude problems that Connolly brought.  Plus with limited short handed time and second line power play time, Leino racked up the majority of his points at even strength, an area in which Connolly became an increasing liability.  I suspect that if Leino is paired with Stafford and Vanek, two guys that know how to shoot the puck, he’s going to look real good, real fast.

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