In which Ville Leino, healthy scratch, earns our sympathy

Puck Daddy

He may be the interim coach, but Ted Nolan has reached a rite of passage for any bench boss for the Buffalo Sabres: Like the two men who came before him, he has made Ville Leino a healthy scratch.

The Sabres have probably been off your radar since the end of Pat LaFontaine’s press conference, so here’s what Leino’s done this season: Not much. Five assists in 18 games with nary a goal, good for a 0.28 points per game average. And he’s a minus-3 in his last two games.

So he’s a healthy scratch.

“I don’t know about losing patience. Certain players with a certain skills set, they have to bring it,” Nolan said. “Sometimes it’s better to sit and look and observe for a while and hopefully when he gets back he’ll play the way he’s capable of playing.”

Nolan said Saturday’s loss to Montreal and a bad practice led to the scratch. “It’s how you lose games. It’s not giving them away. We want to see guys with effort on a consistent basis.”

Leino’s reaction? Baffled:

"I don't know what to tell you," Leino said. "Just like you said, Back and forth. I'm not exactly sure what he wants out of me."

Asked if Nolan finally told him score-or-sit, Leino responded, "He didn't exactly say that but I guess everybody knows that has to happen. Saying that, not a lot of other guys have scored either."

Wait … what is that I’m feeling for Ville Leino. Is it … now, it can’t be … is it sympathy?

Sure, he doesn’t have a goal in 18 games. But Drew Stafford has two in 30 games. Steve Ott has three in 30 games, playing to a minus-14. Riddle me this: Of these three players, which one getting a healthy scratch makes the most impact: The eight-year veteran of the Sabres, their captain or the guy who has been Ville-fied since his signed his mega deal?

Healthy scratching Leino seems like putting another bullet in the corpse, doesn’t it?

Look, I know sympathy for Leino isn’t easy to muster. Dude made $12 million in the last two seasons and produced 10 goals. His contract is a punchline. But the metrics show the Sabres can be a better offensive team with him on the ice, even if the stats aren’t there. He’s actually been a good possession player lately, even if Saturday’s effort wasn’t there.

But we’re sure that sympathy will vanish when he eventually gets his buyout. Cha-ching.

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