The biggest free agency concern that the Flyers’ front office will face this summer is Ville Leino. For the first time in his career Ville will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1st unless the Flyers can sign him before then. The question now becomes how much is Ville Leino worth?
In Ville’s last year in the SM-Liiga he lead the team in assists (49), points (77), plus/minus (+34) and was tied for second in goals (28) in only 55 games on a team that didn’t even make the playoffs. He came over to North America, winding up in the Red Wings’ system. In his first year in the AHL in only 57 games he managed to put up the fourth most points (15-31-46) in the regular season and lead the AHL affiliate in playoff points with 13 in only ten games. That season he also played 13 games---good for 9 points for the big club. He was rewarded with NHL playoff experience and registered 2 assists in 7 games with the Wings. The next season, Ville was expected to break out but after only 7 points in 42 games (and was minus-10) he was traded to Philly for a bag of pucks named Ole-Kristian Tollefson.
Ville started in Philly in the press box and in his limited regular season playing time he netted 2 goals and dished out 2 assists in 13 games. When last year’s magical playoff run started, Ville was once again in the press box. It took injuries to Jeff Carter, Ian Laperriere and Simon Gagne to get Ville on the ice, and Ville took advantage of it. He was fitted to play with slumping Danny Briere and the borderline non-existent Scotty Hartnell. The rest for Ville is history: 19 games, 7 goals, 14 assists. He set the Flyers playoff record for most points by a rookie in a single post-season. This year the HBL line stuck together this year and in 81 games Leino had 19 goals and 34 assists totaling 53 points (plus-14).
Ville entered this year in the last year of a contract paying him just $600,000; while he was due for a raise, Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux’ expiring contracts were the first and second priority. Carter got a ten-year deal worth 5.25 million dollars a year and Claude Giroux received a three-year deal worth 3.75 million per. The Flyers then started negotiations with Leino and the talks halted while the offers were supposedly around three to four years worth three million a year. Then Kris Versteeg happened. We traded for Versteeg without giving away any cap and took on his near 3.1 million dollar hit. We had no problem fitting him under this years salary cap but with the Carter and Giroux raises we would have been over the 59.4 million dollar limit for next years cap (you cannot go over the current years cap in budgeted money for next year). What all that basically means is we cant sign Ville until we make room via trade or the cap officially goes up to it’s new number. When soaking all of this in I was shocked that Ville didn’t jump all over that three million a year because I didn’t think he was worth even two-and-a-half. Man was I wrong…
I wanted to see what other NHL players were used in the situations that Ville was used in and what their current cap hit. In order to know what players to look for you need to look at what kinds of situations Ville is deployed in. He had the highest offesnsive zone start percentage (62%) by nine full percentage points over Danny Briere. He plays with first line teammates against fourth line competition. I went to behindthenet.ca and sorted it by quality of competition. Everyone with a negative QUALCOMP was then exported into an excel spreadsheet. Then I sorted it by QUALTEAM and eliminated anyone who didn’t play with positive competition. Next up was zone starts. Anyone who had an offensive zone start percentage under 55% was eliminated from the list. Next up, in order to eliminate all of the enforcers or defensive specialists from the pool, I made the minutes of even strenghth ice time per sixty minutes at least eight. After those qualifications, I went through and picked out anyone who wasn’t a scorer (under 30-40 points a year). I was left with 20 players. Six players qualified but were on their entry level contracts (Calvert!!!!, Turris, Boedker, Leino, Stepan, and Zuccarello). Two more were still young enough to be restricted free agents (Stafford and Hornqvist) when their contracts end---something Ville is not, so I eliminated them from the group. I then took the other twelve players and sorted them by even strength points per sixty. I didn’t use powerplay because Ville didn’t get big powerplay numbers this year and I was really just trying to see how these players performed in sheltered deployments. Here are the results with the player followed by ESP/60 and then their current cap hit: Derek Roy (2.53,4), Thomas Vanek (2.36,7.142), Alex Semin (2.35,6), Pat Sharp (2.31,3.9), Marion Gaborik (2.22,7.5), Wojtek Wolski (2.04,3.8), Loui Eriksson (1.99,4.266), Derick Brassard (1.77,3.2), Jiri Hudler (1.73,2.875), Tim Connolly (1.65,4.5), Kristian Huselius (1.61,4.75), Steve Sullivan (1.57,3.75). Of those twelve players the average cap hit is 4.64. Including the two RFA’s the average is 4.33. For some context on how Ville stands with the twelve example guys, he’s ninth of twentieth on that list with a P/60 of 2.2---right behind Gaborik’s 2.22 and right above Drew Stafford’s 2.2. On a side note Matt Calvert (Geoff!!!!) was second with a 2.45. The average hit of the three above and three below Leino in the list is 4.77.
What does it all mean. For starters, I think Ville will take slightly under his market value. After watching Carter and Giroux both take small pay cuts, I think Ville will do the same after everything Philly had done for Ville. We love him here and he (hopefully) knows it. But what is ‘slightly under his market value.’ I think that he could get in the 3.75-4 million range in the open market, so I’m hoping we don’t have to cross the 3.75 mark. Should we sign him at that value? There just isn’t enough information to make that call yet. How much does the cap go up? Do we trade one of Mez, Carle, or Coburn? Do we make a move for a goalie? Does Kris Versteeg stay? Each of those questions has a direct relation with every other one of those questions.