By Mike Harrington
Mercifully and just a tad short of three years after it began, the Sabres career of embattled winger Ville Leino is over.
The team has placed Leino on unconditional waivers today for the purposes of using one of its two compliance buyouts on his contract. The actual buyout cannot happen until Leino clears waivers at noon on Wednesday but that is expected to be a formality, with no team likely to be interested in picking up the final three years of Leino's deal that has a cap hit of $4.5 million per season.
The Sabres signed Leino to a six-year, $27 million deal on July 1, 2011 and it will cost them $7.333 million to get out of the final three years. The contract rates as one of the worst free agent deals in NHL history, and sits in the annals of Buffalo sports ignominy alongside the $49 million the Bills gave offensive lineman Derrick Dockery in 2007.
According to Capgeek.com, the Leino buyout will be the sixth-largest in NHL history when it becomes official.
Leino, 30, earned $16 million from the Sabres. That's pretty good coin when you consider he scored just 10 goals and had only 46 points for Buffalo in 137 games. He did not score a single goal last season in 58 games, earning richly-deserved stints in coach Ted Nolan's doghouse. Leino has 40 goals in 286 NHL games with Detroit, Philadelphia and Buffalo.
Leino's Buffalo career was essentially rooted in his 19-goal, 53-point season for the Flyers in 2010-11, a season that also saw him score the overtime winner over Buffalo in Game Six of the teams' first-round series and sent the Flyers home to win Game Seven.
Leino had seven goals and 21 points in 19 playoff games for the Flyers the previous spring as they came within two wins of a Stanley Cup and was expected to be a solid postseason player when he signed during Terry Pegula's first free-agent summer as owner. Of course, Leino never got the chance as the Sabres failed to make the playoffs in his three seasons and have now been dismantled into a 30th-place team that's in rebuilding mode.
Leino and Vancouver winger David Booth were both placed on waivers today for buyout purposes. Booth, who had nine goals and 10 assists in 66 games for the Canucks last season, has one year left on his deal with a $4.25 million cap hit.