Bashing Ville Leino has become a regular affair these days, and for good reason: 4 goals, 3 assists for 7 points and a minus-9. That's a disgusting stat line from a guy slated to come in and contribute this season. Ville has been a flat-out disappointment, no two ways about it.
It's worth asking though, if the heart of the Leino Dilemma is more his production or our expectations. He jumped in last year and, with limited minutes, looked like a guy who could develop into a night in, night out contributor. We openly speculated over at The Production Line that while Ville wouldn't singlehandedly erase the memory of Hossa's 40 goals, he might help us get past noted orator Mikael Samuelsson and Jet Setting Scuttles.
This case of inflated expectations vs reality reminds me of about 1,000 blind dates I've been on. One of your friends...typically a girl...calls you up with a HOT TIP on this chick that you ABSOLUTELY have to take out. She's hot. Smart. Funny. Speaks English. You figure with at roster like that you might need to hit up Jared on the way to the first encounter. Then the girl shows up and the buildup, the mental image...it falls apart. You realize that "hot" really meant "she has pretty eyes"...but a thick set of legs; and yes, while she IS a cunning linguist, she uses the entire date to call out your lack of compassion for human rights. She doesn't understand why you write a hockey blog. I digress.
The point here is that it's not that the girl is inherently a loser, it's just that she was oversold. She's a prospect, not a regular. She needs some time to work on her game...hit the gym a little more...unwind from the work stress. If she'd been labeled accordingly from the start, this gap between expectations and delivery wouldn't exist, or at least it would have been a LOT smaller.
Our first instinct is to look at Ville's 7 points, declare him a bust, and continue counting down the days before Homer, Mule and Jason Vanilla (HT: Baroque) return. The problem is that Wings management sees something here and they keep giving The Villain chances to step up. Our experiences with Jimmy Howard this season demonstrate just how dumb it is to discount the braintrust. Back in October all we could talk about was what a rebound machine he was. NHL goaltender? Maybe down in Florida. Bring in Larsson! We all know how that turned out.
Despite his underwhelming production, Babcock and company are sticking with Ville. He started against Washington and Minnesota. He's running with the PP2. He's getting his chances in the shootout. Something's going on here. Trouble...conspiracy...they're afoot. There are conversations with Jimmy D, Kenny Holland, Stevie and Babcock, where someone is making the case for why he deserves to be on the ice. Three theories for what's being said in that dark, smoke-filled room after the jump...
Theory 1: Ville has a legit place in this lineup no matter who comes back
Back in August, everyone assumed that even if he wasn't going to set the league on fire, Ville could at least be a solid third liner. The optimists among us hoped he'd sneak onto the twos and find the scoring touch. Then the injuries started and he was forced into a larger role. Other guys like Patrick Eaves thrived when that happened. More minutes, more responsibility, more production. Ville? Not so much. Ville looks like a guy who needs some time and, more importantly, the ability to fly under the radar. He's the kind of guy right now that, you assume, wants to surprise people when he notches one instead of disappointing when he doesn't.
All that said, it's possible that he still has a place on this team. We've always gotten production from all of our lines, especially the top-3. Is the guy who lit up the Finish Elite League still in there? Does he just need more time to develop? Does he need the studs to come back and take some heat off him?
The theory goes that talent is talent, and if we can just get his confidence back on the straight and narrow, we'll have a regular contributor on our hands for a relative bargain. Maybe he develops into a 2007 Jason Williams with 13 goals and 23 helpers. If that happens, Ville has a place here. He allows us to let guys like Williams slink back across the border to Columbus and he writes one more chapter in the book of guys management saw value in but we consistently doubted.
Theory 2: Ville is trade bait
This is the time of year where teams start deciding if they're playing for the present or future. Do you hold onto the studs or trade for prospects? HSJ already reported this week that Kenny is starting to get calls. Teams know we're in the hunt. They know we're banking on a guys getting healthy and they know that if some of those guys don't get back to 100%, we'll have some holes.
My current favorite theory is that the Wings are giving Ville a chance to assert himself because they know he has value, but ultimately they don't see how he fits into the system. They need him to show some flash so that his trade value pops and we can deal him for something other than a bag of pucks, which is about all we'd get for him these days. If Ville jacks up a few power play goals over the next month, maybe some team comes knocking with a trade that makes sense. If Ville starts to light the lamp, even on a semi-regular basis, some squad could come in assuming that all he needs is the right system, the right linemates, and some increased minutes.
Theory 3: We're not getting healthy this year
Here's the theory that gives me the craps - What if Kenny and company know that we're not going to get the Mule, Vanilla and Homer back to 100% this season? What if they're further out from returning than we think?
If that's the case, we either need to make a trade or VIlle needs to find his golden helmeted form. Brad May is not the answer come playoff time. If he were TPL favorite Aaron Downey, I'd be fine with him running defensemen on the fourth line, but he isn't. May is better in the postgame interview than he is when the clock is running and we need to roll four solid lines out there. No liabilities.
Ville is not the WORST case scenario. He's been around long enough to understand the system. We've gotten him to pipe down about this "I'm not a grinder" business. If our other forwards don't come back healthy...or worse...if we lose someone else closer to playoff time...we're going to be leaning on every healthy body in the system to pull us through.