It all started April 24th, on a semi chilly afternoon in Buffalo. It was Game 6 of the Buffalo-Philly series, heading into overtime. If Buffalo wins, they go on to the next round. If Philly scores, they force a Game 7. Buffalo had won the previous game in OT, so everyone was anxious to see if they could pull this one off too. They didn’t need to wait long. In just under 5 minutes into the overtime period, Ville Leino puts a rebound into a virtually wide open net (because Chris Butler is a terrible defenseman, but that’s another story for another time). In seconds Leino becomes the new villain for Buffalo. Philly went on the win Game 7 and give Buffalo its second straight 1st round playoff exit in two years. I don’t know about you, but I stewed over Game 6 for a while.
July 1st brought Free Agency. Everyone was hopeful and excited for all the new changes that were going to be brought to the team. For once we actually expected to see improvement. We had already added Ehrhoff and Regehr what else was in store for us? The big story was Brad Richards, but truthfully, I felt that was a pipe dream. For most of the day we sat around waiting for ANY big signing to occur. Finally a little after 4pm, we got the news. Leino had signed a 6 year, 27.5 million dollar contract. At first I was stunned. I think my initial reaction was “FUCK that guy!” (I told you I had been stewing about Game 6 for a while!) But then I thought about the 09-10 playoffs and how great he was during them. I changed my tune pretty quickly about him, but was still wary of his contract.
I went on The Buffalo News to go back to this date, to see reaction and whatnot to this signing. I came across a quote from our old good friend Danny Briere who said:
“The fans are going to love him,” Briere said by phone. “I know personally I loved playing with him. He’s a very creative player, very strong on the puck, exciting to watch. He’s a clutch player, as you guys have seen in the playoffs. “It’s disappointing for me to see him leave but I’m happy that he’s going to a place I know very well and a place he’s going to be appreciated.”
Alright, stop laughing. Come on I’m serious! Alright fine, laugh away Chuckles. I am too. Leino has been anything but great. Anything but clutch. The fans absolutely do NOT love him and grow more and more frustrated every game with him. I spoke with a Philly fan right after we acquired him, and they told me, “Hope you like having someone who turns the puck over constantly in the offensive zone.” I shrugged and replied, “Have you seen Tim Connolly and Max Afinogenov play? I’m used to this.” Somehow this seems worse than those two. Maybe even worse than those two combined. (Slight exaggeration). But honestly, he played pretty well in Europe and I was sure we were on the roses and rainbows track straight to the Cup.
Fast forward to present day. He really HAS been a turnover machine. He seems like a lost puppy half the time. He had what I thought was his worst shift last night. Down by one goal with time winding down in the 3rd period, he gets stripped of the puck at center ice, and that gets turned into a breakaway going the other way. Enroth gets a piece of the puck and saves the goal. Play continues back down into the Islander zone, and Leino receives a pass across the crease for an easy wide open net to tie the game. Somehow the puck instead slides between his skates and harmlessly away. I’m actually not quite sure how Twitter didn’t explode in a rage. I’m not sure how I didn’t. I’m not sure how you get more worthless than that shift right there. So much for being clutch. The one good thing I did see him do was actually throwing a hit.
So where do we go from here? Truth be told, I have no idea. You can’t even scratch him because there isn’t a healthy player in sight to replace him with right now. The good news is that he doesn’t have any kind of no trade clause. The bad news is who in their right mind is going to take on that contract?
Maybe Anaheim would like him, along with Drew Stafford? In October I was fine with giving him leeway, because hey, he’s a new player, and needs a little time to find some chemistry. Tomorrow is the beginning of December. I think everyone is done giving him time. Speaking of that, let’s take a look at his stats leading up to this point. In 24 games, he has 2 goals and 4 assists, and is a -5. Not exactly impressing anyone with those numbers. Perhaps he’s missing Danny Briere by his side. Well, who do we have that is comparable to Danny? *Crickets*. Yup, we’re screwed. *Note: We do have Ennis, but who knows when he will be fully ready to go. Also have they tried Ennis centering Leino? I want to see that.
Now, I know he is a better player than this. I watched a ton of the playoffs in 09-10. He was great. I just don’t know what is going on with him right now. I do know one thing, I’d love for him to figure it out, and fast. This team is already getting killed by injures, we don’t need to see him go to waste night in and out on the ice. He had a couple of games very recently where he looked a LOT better than he did in October. I hope to god he goes back to playing like that next game. Who knows, maybe he just needs to get a goal or two here and regain his confidence, and things will fall into place. I know I hate seeing the word ‘Bust’ next to his name. I’m sure he does too.
But until then, so much for clutch.