Ville Leino: Are we surprised?

If you hadn’t heart of Ville Leino before the 2010 playoffs, when he was a major part in bringing the Philadelphia Flyers to two games of the Stanley Cup, you could be forgiven. Before the 2010 playoffs, Ville Leino had scored just 11 goals in 75 NHL games, enough to make him a somewhat tertiary scoring threat on a good hockey team.

And yet now the most impressive thing that Leino has done with his new six-year/$27M deal is throw an elbow against Matt Read of the Philadelphia Flyers. Yes, nothing has gone sunshine and lollipops for Leino, with just three goals in his 27 games in Buffalo. Even worse, he has just 26 shots on net.

Ville Leino is the poster-boy for making money off of a one-year outlier season in regards to shooting percentage. Through the 2010 playoffs and the subsequent 2011 season, Leino scored 26 goals in 100 games shooting 17%, a number well-above his career total up until that point of 10.9%.

Not only was Leino unlikely to repeat that 26-goal in 100-game performance, but 26 goals in 100 games is not all that exceptional for a guy being paid like a second-line forward. His closest cap-hit comparables, Ryan Malone, Tim Connolly, David Backes, generally don’t need outlier shooting percentages to put themselves on a 20-goal pace.

I miss Happy Ville. #FreeVille

I don’t want to go all Darren Rovell and cherry-pick facts like “Leino has made X amount of dollars for the Y shots he takes” because I think hockey players have more uses than simple goal scoring; just as important are creating shots and playing sound defensive hockey.

It’s not Leino’s fault that an NHL General Manager was willing to pay him millions to, in 186 career game including playoffs, put fewer than 1 and a half shots on goal per game. It’s not Leino’s fault that an NHL General Manager was willing to pay a player who had a single decent season in possession metrics (the 2010 regular season, if we were asking) given the competition he plays.

And yet, Leino continues to think that the problem may be luck-based. Last week, he told reporters that:

“I guess you could be [frustrated], but I’ve been feeling good, I just haven’t been scoring and producing. Obviously, that’s what you need to do. I’m just waiting for a couple of goals to get in and get things rolling.”

"Hey, the two of us will make a combined $18M one season. Won't that be fun?"

Is that correct language for a player who has just 26 shots in his 27 games? Leino this season is putting fewer than one puck on net per game, which is the lowest of his career total so far. But why should we be surprised? This is a player who was never known as a goal-scorer, never having led his team in that category in his professional career, and doesn’t have the possession numbers to back up being a playmaker.

With the score tied and Leino on the ice, the Sabres have been out-shot 68-57. Sure, he hasn’t been Buffalo’s only problem this season, but the Sabres signing Leino and Christian Ehrhoff to long-term, expensive contracts is everything that stat bloggers like to warn about. Giving money for a one-year outlier or a player who succeeded only because of the situations he was in is not a ticket to success, and yet it is what Buffalo, formerly some of the more cautious spenders in the league, opened their chequebooks for no particular reason this summer on a free-agent class that was marginal at best.