Coming off the first big season of his short NHL career, Ville Leino secured himself a future in the League with the Buffalo Sabres on Friday by signing a multi-year contract. TSN reported the terms at six years for $27 million.
"He was someone we identified early and moved him to the top of the list," Sabres GM Darcy Regier told reporters at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. "We think there is upside there. We think he is coming into his own. We are thrilled to have him."
Leino, 27, had a career-best 53 points in 81 games with the Flyers last season after helping Philadelphia reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 by scoring 21 points in 19 postseason games. He played primarily on the left wing with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, but Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said the plan is to try him out at center.
"He was a centerman until age 23 and enjoys playing center," Ruff said at the press conference in Buffalo. "Actually, if you studied a little bit of Philly's system, a lot of times he was the guy playing down low in the end on the Hartnell-Briere line. I talked to him about all three positions and he's comfortable with all three, but the position he likes the most is playing center, which is really a bonus and an ideal fit for us. We feel initially that's exactly where we want to utilize him."
The Sabres proved Wednesday with the signing of Christian Ehrhoff (10 years, $40 million) that they were going to be a major player in free agency. They also acquired defenseman Robyn Regehr via a trade from Calgary.
It's a different look for the Sabres, who are operating under the new ownership of Terry Pegula.
Pegula talked about winning the Stanley Cup the day he took over the team, and he's opened up his wallet for Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, who confirmed to reporters in Buffalo that the team is now over the $64.3 million salary cap and into the 10 percent cushion teams are allotted over the summer.
Regier said the Sabres were initially going to be involved in the Brad Richards sweepstakes and even had plans to go to Mississauga, Ont., to meet with him and his agent, Pat Morris, at Newport Sports Management, Inc. offices. But as the day progressed, Regier said the Sabres got into a "time pressure situation where we had to make a decision."
They decided to choose Leino.
"We felt it was important that we didn't allow a quality player like him slip by us," Regier said. "Over the course of the summer we'll focus on possible trade opportunities to see if there is any way we can improve this team, but we feel very good about where are right now."
Leino came to the NHL from Finland as a 25-year-old. He signed with the Detroit Red Wings, but it never worked out there and he was traded to Philadelphia for Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and a fifth-round pick on Feb. 6, 2010.
He made an immediate impact in Philadelphia while playing mostly on a line with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell. Leino not only had a career-high 53 points this past season, but he also had career-highs in goals (19), assists (34), power play goals (5) and plus-minus (plus-14).
Leino had 5 points in 11 playoff games, including an overtime winner against Buffalo in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
"We've got a real good spot for him in our top six and he can be a real good offensive player for us," Ruff said.