There was quite a bit of excitement when the Sabres signed Ville Leino in 2011. There was a whole lot more Tuesday when Buffalo started the process of buying the bust out.
Leino, one of the first acquisitions in the “no financial mandates” era set forth by owner Terry Pegula, will soon be nothing but a memory and cautionary tale. The Sabres waived him for the purpose of enacting a compliance buyout, and the final three seasons of his six-year, $27 million contract will be stricken from Buffalo’s salary cap chart today.
The buyout was expected after the forward recorded no goals and 38 shots in 58 games this season, numbers that in no way justify an annual cap hit of $4.5 million.
“He wasn’t surprised,” Leino’s agent, Markus Lehto, told The Buffalo News by phone. “He was pretty neutral about it.”
The 30-year-old Leino, signed after showing potential during two seasons in Philadelphia, hopes to keep playing in the NHL. He will be an unrestricted free agent.
“Free agency starts first of July, and we’ll go from there,” Lehto said. “His priority is to play in the NHL. He knows he’s a very good NHL player. Obviously, the past two seasons have been just average, I would say, but I’m not going to go and try and analyze what happened. I mean, we’ll just look forward.”
Lehto was merely talking up his client while saying Leino was average. The forward’s three-year stay in Buffalo was a complete disappointment, and he finished it as the most maligned player on the worst team in the league.
While the signing was a failure for Buffalo, it worked out well financially for Leino. He’s already been paid $16 million of his $27 million contract, and he’ll get another $7.333 million spread out over the next six years. Pegula and his accountants obviously won’t forget Leino, but the team will.
The collective bargaining agreement ratified in 2013 gave each team two compliance buyouts to use over two seasons. Rather than a regular buyout that stays on the teams’ cap chart, a compliance buyout erases the player. Leino is the Sabres’ first compliance buyout, and they have until June 30 to use the other one, if they desire.
The team had no comment on Tuesday’s transaction. The removal of Leino, according to CapGeek.com, gives the Sabres a salary cap number of $34.4 million for next season, well under the anticipated cap floor of $52 million. The Sabres still have to sign restricted free agents Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, but they’ll need more big contracts in order to comply with the CBA.
Buffalo heralded Leino on July 1, 2011, as a quality consolation prize to Brad Richards, the top free agent on the market that summer. Though the team overpaid for a one-time playoff performer whose best season was 19 goals and 53 points, the Sabres made the deal to show there was a new “Hockey Heaven.”
It didn’t take long for Leino’s tenure to turn hellacious. He told the Sabres on the day he signed that he’d be willing to play center, a position of dire need in Buffalo, but less than a month into the season he begged back onto the wing. He shuttled back and forth between positions during his opening season and stumbled home with eight goals and 25 points in 71 games. Little did anyone know that would signify the “good times.”
The lockout and a hip injury limited Leino to just eight games in 2012-13, and he was the poster boy for ineptitude this season.
Fans belittled his performance and signs of lethargy early in the season, and the anger turned to apathy as Leino skated through games unnoticed. He failed to take a shot in 32 of his 58 appearances.
Leino’s career in Buffalo consisted of 10 goals and 46 points in 137 games.
The Finland native was an engaging conversationalist in the dressing room and had interesting stories, but his point of view about hockey often clashed with fans’ expectations. He rarely took the blame for his failings, instead putting them in the context of team letdowns.
The lack of accountability combined with lack of output made the buyout a given. Its arrival was one of the few times Leino and the Sabres heard cheers together.