As everyone has likely heard by now, the Detroit Red Wings have traded forward Ville Leino to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and a fifth round draft pick in 2011.
Tollefsen is a middling defenceman in a lot of ways who stands out because of his size and his willingness to use it. His offensive contributions are minimal, he makes little contribution to special teams (he occasionally takes a shift on the penalty kill) and he’s a third-pairing guy at even strength. I don’t say this to tear the player down, because he’s good at what he does, which is providing a physical presence while breaking even in a depth role. I thought he was a good signing this summer by Philadelphia and I thought he would be a nice fit in Detroit; unfortunately he’s AHL bound if he doesn’t clear waivers, as the Red Wings need to clear salary.
Ville Leino is the really interesting player here, and before I get into what I think of him I thought it would be a good idea to add some context. Whenever I look at a forward in Europe, I use Gabriel Desjardins’ league translations, which give us a ballpark idea of what to expect when the player comes over to North America.
Below are Leino’s numbers for the last four seasons, projected over an 82-game NHL schedule. The first three are in Finland, while the last one was in the AHL.
The first four seasons we look at don’t show us anything spectacular; they suggest a player who can probably play at the NHL level, but not one who can handle a top-six role. 2007-08 is the exception; in his breakout season he finished second in Finland in points and scored more goals than he ever had at any other stage of his career. It’s no coincidence that the Red Wings brought Leino over to North America for 2008-09.
Still, Leino hadn’t shown an ability to play in North America at that point, and one man’s breakout season can be another man’s one-time event. Hockey history is full of players who broke out on year only to fall back to their previous level of ability; one good example would be Dave Lowry’s rebirth in 2000-01 with the Calgary Flames, a season which turned out to be unsustainable.
Leino’s AHL performance was not especially good. He finished fifth in scoring on the Grand Rapids Griffins, behind some legitimate prospects and some fairly unremarkable players. But the problem with bringing Europeans over to North America is that they rarely want to spend much time in the minors, and I doubt Leino would have responded favourably had the Red Wings asked him to spend another year in Grand Rapids. At this point, the organization couldn’t know if Leino’s regression was a result of adapting to a new continent or if he’d simply played over his head in 2007-08.
Balanced against those questions was Leino’s NHL performance: five goals and nine points in 31 games played, a performance which stood in stark contrast to Leino’s AHL struggles. The red flag on that performance was Leino’s superhuman 29.4% shooting percentage – a rate that not even the best players in the NHL could keep up for any length of time. However, the Red Wings opted to give Leino an audition on their NHL roster for this season.
By any measure, Leino’s been a failure to date. He has four goals and seven points in 42 games, along with a minus-10 rating. Some of that probably isn’t his fault (Leino’s on-ice percentages are brutal this season) and thus this is probably the low-water mark for his performance, but the Red Wings were giving him cherry even-strength minutes – lots of offensive zone starts, and lots of ice-time against lousy opponents and he wasn’t producing. More importantly, Leino had a season and a half in North America and in that time he’d looked a lot like the player he was before 2007-08 – a guy who would probably only score 10 goals and 35 points. I think Leino will improve in Philadelphia, but I’d also bet he doesn’t stray too far from the numbers he put up over most of his career in Finland.
Philadelphia didn’t give up much to get him, so it’s difficult to see a real problem with this deal on their end, while Detroit gets some cap space and a reserve guy in the minors (assuming he makes it that far).