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FORT ERIE, Ont. - For the first time in three summers, Ville Leino had time and health on his side. It allowed him to work out, shed pounds and forget about a lost season.
He hopes the efforts won't go to waste because of a lockout.
Leino is among the legions of NHL players who spent the summer preparing for a season that may not come. The Buffalo Sabres' forward will spend the next week hoping the league and players' association can agree on a new collective bargaining agreement before the current one expires Sept. 15.
If they don't, the owners will lock out the players for the second time in seven years.
"All the players want to play," Leino said Thursday. "You've got to think that it's going to start on time. I had one of the best summers I've ever had, so it's kind of a shame if it doesn't start on time."
Leino joined Sabres President Ted Black and team alumni Danny Gare and Jay McKee behind the counter of a Tim Horton's on Thursday morning as part of the organization's two-day caravan through Southern Ontario. It was clear Leino has not been binging on doughnuts since leaving Western New York in the spring. The 28-year-old is noticeably thinner.
Being able to train is the prime reason for the svelte figure, Leino said. Two summers ago, Leino had hip surgery following a long postseason run by the Philadelphia Flyers. He said last offseason was short-circuited by a knee ailment and another extended run by the Flyers.
He was healthy this summer and had plenty of time to train because Buffalo missed the postseason.
"I was doing a workout with the same personal coach that I was using a few years earlier, but the last two years I couldn't because of the injuries," Leino said. "I was healthy all summer. I could plan because we had so much time because we finished so [early]. I was able to get back to the shape I was before all those injuries, and even better.
"I've lost some weight, and I'm in really good shape. Hopefully, it doesn't go to waste."
In addition to being fine physically, Leino says he's good mentally following a disastrous first season in Buffalo. After signing a six-year, $27 million contract, Leino recorded just eight goals and 25 points in 71 games.
"It wasn't fun, but I'm hoping this year will be different," he said. "I've been doing all I can do to work on it, and hopefully I'll be able to do what I do best."
After his Canadian appearance, Leino drove back to Buffalo to join 19 other Sabres on the ice in South Buffalo's Cazenovia rink. They skated and shinnied for more than an hour.
While they tore up the ice, representatives from the NHL and NHLPA stayed apart for the sixth straight day. Negotiations remained in "recess" as the clock ticked toward a seemingly inevitable work stoppage.
"I guess we'll have to wait and see and try to work on it on our end," Leino said. "We're just going to have to keep working, and if [a lockout comes], which we don't hope, we'll play somewhere to be in the best shape till [the season] starts."
email: jvogl@buffnews.com