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Until his eventual comeback in the NHL, Ville Leino will live in infamy.
To some he’s an epic bust, signing a 6-year, $27-million contract with the Buffalo Sabres and getting mercifully bought out from it this year. To others, he’s a victim of circumstance, mismanaged and thrown into a deteriorating locker room that’s now in a full rebuild.
Guess which way Ville thinks things went?
Now a member of Medvescak Zagreb of the KHL, Leino met the media this week to discuss his new gig and his old digs. Mislav Jantoljak of Grocery Twigs was there, and provided these questions and answers from Ville:
Given the fact that Buffalo is paying you $1.22 million for the next six seasons not to play for them what do you hope to accomplish with Medvescak as far as your hockey career goes?
"I’m going to enjoy my game here, trying to help the team, trying to score some points, but most of all enjoy hockey. That’s when I play my best. It’s going to be a new start for me in Europe because it’s a totally different league and a totally different atmosphere – it’s going to be fun for me."
During your hockey career, what has been your favorite moment?
"Well, when we had that Stanley Cup run and we lost in the Finals with the Flyers. I played in the playoffs and we had a great team, winning games and even next year we had a great team so the Philly years were the best time for me. My time with Jokerit was also good, but playing in the Stanley Cup Final and the playoffs – that’s a great thing."
And the worst?
"My Buffalo time was pretty bad overall. I was disappointed for the players and the organization and I think they are going to be like that. It’s hard to play in the NHL if you don’t have a good team. Obviously, that was kind of a tough time but sometimes life goes hard and you have to bounce back."
What really happened in Buffalo? I mean, in Philadelphia it seemed like you career was on an upswing, you play fantastic hockey and then you sign in Buffalo and things don’t quite work out…
"There’s a huge difference between teams. NHL is hard, you have to have chemistry, a good line, you have to have a good team to win, a good coach and GM and everything in place. Like we were just talking about those great organizations, Philly, Detroit, they were that, Buffalo is not that. They, well, during my time they fired two coaches, GM had to go, they just have 2-3 players that used to be there when I got there. They are going to struggle for the next couple of years. It seems like everything went wrong, I mean, I was injured all the time and then, obviously, I had a lot of pressure with the money and I think the last year, they were just trying to get through it and buy me out after the season anyway. I could sense that, I knew it was coming. It’s hard to play when everything goes against you every day and you don’t kind of know what the situation is so I’m just glad that’s over with."
“We were talking about great organizations, and Buffalo is not that.” Why that sounds like the kind of team that gives out a six-year deal to a winger with one good season who they try to turn into a center!