Fri Dec 16 11:07am EST
He had five points in seven games, accounting for half of his season total after signing a 6-year deal worth 27 million of Terry Pegula's dollars. Then a lower body injury put him on the shelf "for weeks," extinguishing whatever spark he'd found 29 games into the season.
That's 11 games more than Tim Connolly has played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, yet the center has 15 points in those games and is playing to a plus-4. He signed a two-year, $9.5 million deal with the Leafs in July; Leino, shifted to center after playing wing for the Philadelphia Flyers, was ostensibly his replacement with the Buffalo Sabres.
Now, as the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night, Leino's injured; and Connolly, a poster child for fragility with the Sabres to the point where he was once injured dancing like Shaq, is healthy and contributing to the Leafs' success.
The Hockey Gods are cynical comedians like that.
Connolly told reporters he expects to hear boos from Sabres fans, as other former Buffalo players have received similar receptions. From the Buffalo News, the expectations for the Sabres:
"That's going to be a different one," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "Losing him in the playoffs last year [on a blindside check by Philadelphia's Mike Richards in Game Six] was a big loss for us. He was playing well. The big thing with Timmy was he had some untimely injuries that really hurt us."
… "It was weird in preseason to look over there and see him in a Leafs jersey," [Thomas] Vanek said. "When Danny [Briere] left and then Dru [Chris Drury] and you saw a Flyers or Rangers jersey, that's definitely weird. But when you see someone in a Leafs jersey, that makes it even more awkward."
Most awkward of all: That Leino will be in street clothes and Connolly will be on the ice in Buffalo.