Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Free Agent Preview: Is Ville Leino A Solution For Rangers Secondary Scoring Issues?

Al Bello/Getty Images
With less than a month left until the frenzy that is free agency begins and the New York Rangers will certainly be looking for offense when the market opens on July 1.  In looking ahead to the free agent market there have already been looks at Brad Richards for the first line center role, James Wisniewski as a puck-moving defender that could also aid the power play, Brooks Laich as a top-six forward and Simon Gagne as another potential cheap gamble and Anton Babchuk to be a bomber from the point.

With the Rangers need for offense being a priority the focus shifts back to the available forwards on the market this year with Ville Leino.  After struggling to consistently crack the Detroit Red Wings lineup Leino was moved to Philadelphia during the 2009-10 season where he found his legs at the NHL level.  During the Flyers run to the cup, Leino had seven goals and 14 assists in 19 games. 

The 27-year old Finnish forward built on his strong playoff run from the season before en route to a career year in which he posted 21 goals and 53 points in 81 games.  Not bad for a guy who had 11 goals and nine assists in 68 career regular season games coming into the 2010-11 season.  There is no question that Leino is due for a substantial raise from his current salary (825K), but there can be questions about whether Leino’s production is a sign that he has truly figured it out or if he has been very lucking playing with Daniel Briere since joining the Flyers.  Making that determination is the key to deciding if Leino could work here in New York.  If his production was a product of playing with Briere, then he is not a fit because he will be paid based on that production and unable to duplicate it as the Rangers do not have a player with Briere’s skill-set here.  If Leino’s stick-handling and playmaking abilities are deemed to have been the real cause along with greater opportunity to consistently play, then you are looking at a player growing into the NHL at the prime of his career.

With the Rangers likely having a void on left wing next year in their top six forwards a player like Leino who could potentially fit in on a second line is an intriguing option.  If the market has him closer to $3 rather than $4 million it is someone the Rangers should consider signing to create depth in the forward core.