Buffalo Sabres: The Ville Leino Buyout Saga


With the city of Los Angeles celebrating their second Stanley Cup in the last three years, the city of Buffalo hopes to be preparing Ville Leino‘s goodbye parade very soon.

Leino’s contract may be one of the more infamous of the past few years, as his six-year, $27 million deal with the Buffalo Sabres has made him one of the most glaringly overpaid players in the league. 

This talk has made Leino a buyout favorite, especially considering the Sabres still have both of their lockout-awarded amnesty buyouts. This would allow the Sabres to buy out Leino with no salary-cap consequences, something most teams are keen to avoid.

Sabres general manager Tim Murray also said that a Leino buyout was a “very good possibility” a few weeks ago, according to CBS Sports. 

Yet there has been some pause recently in respect to Leino’s buyout because of the salary-cap floor the Sabres must meet, which is expected to be about $52 million in 2014-15. 

As of right now, according to CapGeek, the Sabres have a team salary of $38.9 million, about $13 million shy of the projected cap floor. A compliance buyout of Leino would make put number closer to $17.5 million.

With the need to re-sign several restricted free agents including Tyler Ennis, Cory Conacher, Marcus Foligno and Chad Ruhwedel, that $17.5 million may not be as truly daunting as it seems at first glance. However, it is unlikely that those four, plus any other players re-signed, will get the team beyond that $52 million threshold. 

That’s why there’s been more general speculation among Sabres fans that Leino may not be as much of a slam-dunk buyout candidate as once thought. The general thought process is fairly simple: Why buyout a high-priced free agent just to have to sign another one?

And there is some logic to that argument. Why spend $6.5 million per year on Ryan Callahan when you can keep Leino for $2 million cheaper?

Now, realistically, that’s not comparing apples to apples because Leino has struggled in his time with the Sabres. While he is not nearly as terrible as many lead on, his on-ice performance has not come anywhere near the level he has showed in the past, especially with the Philadelphia Flyers.

An inability to score is an inability to score. You really can’t come up with many excuses for that. 

So any argument against buying out Leino has one foundation in the cap floor. As that is not really a persuasive argument, that leads many back to the compliance buyout.

But there is another option.

In a thought shared by Joe Yerdon of Pro Hockey Talk, the Sabres could buy out Leino, but use a traditional, non-compliance buyout on him. 

This helps the Sabres in two ways.

First, it keeps some salary on the books to help with the cap-floor issue. According to CapGeek, where it can be assumed Yerdon also found his numbers, Leino would count $1.7 million against the cap in 2014-15, $2.2 million in 2015-16 and 2016-17 and then $1.2 million for the three seasons after that. 

That allows the Sabres to keep some salary on the books, pushing them to the floor, but not too much to hamper future plans for Tim Murray. While this may be an odd “benefit,” it allows the team to get to the floor without throwing ridiculous money at another free agent, which seems to be the best thing for a young team moving forward.

The second, and perhaps less obvious benefit is that the Sabres would get to keep both of their compliance buyouts to use on other players.

This is especially relevant in light of Murray’s comments last week in which he said the Sabres, in exchange for first-rounders in this June’s draft, would be willing to trade for a bad cap contract that they would in turn buy out.

That report, from ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, shows that Murray is willing to do some unorthodox things to bring this team to the next level. 

Now, granted, it’s probably highly unlikely that Murray can make a deal like that, let alone two, but he may want to have the flexibility to do so just in case, and the cap-floor help may be enough of a push for him in and of itself. 

But, either way, one can expect Leino’s name to join the free-agent pool this July.


Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18.

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