Buffalo Sabres' fans have several months to think about what went wrong. Was it the injuries? Was it a combative relationship between players and coach? Was it lack of determination? Or the ever-talked-about “core?”
Often times, those aspects of failure are tough to put a finger on. The only ones who know the answers to those questions are behind closed doors. But that doesn't mean we can't search for answers within the resources we have. One of those untapped resources is advanced statistics. Yes, they exist in hockey, not just baseball.
This is part two of a series of articles about what the numbers suggest about the Sabres' season of failure. Read part one about Brad Boyes here
In part two, we focus on Ville Leino.
The questions: Why was Leino so bad? Why didn't he repeat his 2010-11 and 2010 playoff performances that earned him a big contract?
The majority opinion: Leino is a bust. His production in Philadelphia was a one-year wonder. He did not fit in Lindy Ruff's system and never should have been acquired by GM Darcy Regier.
Leino's stats: 71 games, 8 goals, 17 assists, minus-2
What the stats are:
Before we talk about this 2011-12, we have to talk about 2010-11. Leino scored 53 points in 81 games with the Flyers and was plus-14. He scored five goals, six assists on the power play and scored on 16.2 percent of his shots.
In 2010-11, Leino only trailed Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter in even strength points per 60 minutes at 2.21 per 60. He started in the offensive zone 62.3 percent of the time. He averaged 13.42 minutes per 60 of time on ice and 2.30 during the power play. Leino also ranked second on the Flyers in the Quality of Teammates statistic. He also took 117 shots.
There are some vast differences between those numbers and some of his 2011-12 stats.
First: ice time. Leino led the Sabres in 5-on-5 ice time amongst forwards with 14.51 per 60 and only 1.06 on the power play. His O-zone start percentage was down at 54.5 percent. He also ranked fourth amongst forwards in Quality of Teammates and took only 78 shots.
Notice the power play ice time.
Leino scored 11 points in 2010-11 when averaging more than twice the power play ice time. This season he scored just one point on the power play for the Sabres. His power play production was non-existent largely because he was never on the ice during 5-on-4 situations.
Leino's 5-on-5 scoring took a series dive, too. While his ice time increased, production dropped to 1.34 points per 60 minutes from 2.21 the previous year.
What the stats say:
The drop in even strength production was not because of his linemates as his Quality of Teammates statistic indicates he was playing the majority of the time 5-on-5 with the Sabres' most productive forwards. It also was not because of his puck possession numbers, which actually improved from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
The even-strength fall could be in part because of a high shooting percentage and more shots in 2010-11. His 16.2 shot percentage was well above the league average of 9.6. In 2011-12, it dropped back to around average at 10.3. Also, Leino's shots per game dropped from 1.42 SOG/gm to 1.08 SOG/gm.
There's an obvious correlation between shots per game and scoring. For example, Columbus's Rick Nash was a 30-goal scorer this year. He also took 306 shots, scoring at a lower rate than Leino at just 9.8 percent.
The lack of shots and lower shooting percentage were both likely connected to the reduction in power play ice time, too.
This can be demonstrated by Ryan Miller, who was a slightly above average statistical goalie this season. Miller's 5-on-5 save percentage was .922, but short handed was .885. Shot percentages are always much higher on the power play than at even strength. Less power play time = fewer shots, lower shot percentage.
Another glaring 5-on-5 problem was that Leino started in the offensive zone less, down 7.8 percent from his standout year and nearly 20 percent from his outstanding 2010 playoffs. Not to mention his team naturally had fewer O-zone starts because of their poor possession numbers.
Ruff likes to use his forwards on both ends of the ice. Outside of Patrick Kaleta's 41 percent of offensive zone starts, every Sabres' forward was between 45 and 58 percent starts in the O-zone.
Oddly enough, the Flyers are similar to the Sabres in asking players to start on both ends but Philadelphia singled out Leino in 2010-11. He started 62.3 percent of the time when the next highest player was Briere at 53.1 percent. They maximized his offensive output by giving him more chances in the offensive zone.
When Leino had his “coming out party” of sorts during the Flyers' 2010 playoff run, he was used started in the offensive zone at an astonishing 74.6 percent of the time.
The numbers indicate that Leino couldn't possibly have been the player he was in 2010-11 (the player that Regier thought he was signing) or in the 2010 playoffs because he was not being used the same way. He wasn't used on the power play and wasn't used in enough offensive zone starts.
Keep in mind the stats say a one-way player with an extremely high shooting percentage never should have been given a contract with a $4.5 million cap hit unless that player is going to shoot 300 times per year, especially when the head coach rarely (if not never) uses players in a one-way capacity. There were plenty of statistical indicators that Leino would not be the same player in Buffalo as he was in Philadelphia
Earlier this off-season, Leino indicated to The Buffalo News that his role was not conducive to his talents and the stats say he's probably right.
Thanks to Derek Jedamski (@thehosers_dsj) for his input on this article