In 2005, the Minnesota Wild selected with the 4th overall pick Benoit Pouliot from the Sudbury Wolves.
Things did not work out.
In 2009, Chuck Fletcher traded the underachieving Pouliot away for Guillaume Latendresse, who electrified Wild fans by scoring a goal about every other game. It was dubbed by Wild fans to be the Best Trade Ever.
Two years later, we’re waving goodbye, and it didn’t appear to be the Best Trade Ever after all.
More Gui Retrospective-ing after the jump.
Coming into the 2010-11 season, expectations were high for Latendresse, which made his quickly getting in Todd Richard’s doghouse, and then getting injured for basically the whole season. After the season’s conclusion, we got the full story: He was injured because he was not in shape, and Fletcher told him to get his ass in shape and be ready to play next season (NOTE: It probably wasn’t those exact words).
And he complied, showing up in shape and while he didn’t light up the score sheet, he was among the Wild leaders in points and a large part of the team’s early season performance. But then he suffered a concussion, came back too early, reaggravated it, and was subsequently out for the year.
So, with two disappointing seasons in a row, Gui will be departing in free agency. The impression (mostly from bits from Russo’s blog) is that Fletcher wasn’t all that interested in resigning the power forward, which made sense. Latendresse appeared to be willing to stay on with Minnesota, as he was negotiating a one year deal for less money than his Qualifying Offer would have gotten him, and the Wild would have been able to keep him simply by offering 2.5 million.
I don’t think this is a good idea. Yes, Latendresse has not returned any value at all on his contract (2 years, 5 million), but he just turned 25, and has shown success as a power forward who could shoot the puck. If you’re the Sharks, a team close to the cap with good forward depth, a good offense and some roster spots to fill, then yeah, you don’t have a lot of incentive to take that risk. But the Wild need scoring badly, even with a talented crop of forwards coming up, have TONS of cap space (a hair under 20M), and 5 (4 if they resigned Lats) roster spots to fill.
I understand why there would be hesitation in picking up Latendresse’s QO- the Wild’s scoring depth this year was a card castle, and the concussion Gui suffered knocked down a very impressive castle the Wild were building. I get not wanting to have to rely on his scoring.
But the thing is, they wouldn’t have to rely on him this year. An injury on the big club will have Johan Larsson or Charlie Coyle replacing that player, not Cody Almond or Jeff Taffe. To get a potential scoring forward with a guaranteed 1 year, 2.5 million dollar deal presented very little risk in terms of dollars and opportunity cost. The Wild aren’t going to find someone with Latendresse’s skill set for the price he was available exclusively to the Wild at, and even with other skilled players at that price (for example, Peter Mueller), they’ll carry the same amount of risk with them as Latendresse.
Not to mention that letting Latendresse walk makes the Wild that much more desperate for the services of Zach Parise, as the Wild are left without a reasonable contingency plan. This does not bode well.
Of course, perhaps Fletcher has other reasons to not resign him than are apparent to the typical fan. Perhaps he feels his injuries will be chronic. Perhaps he feels that the Wild will need that cap space to pursue free agents. Perhaps he strongly feels Latendresse will never return to the level of play he was at for 3/4s of a season.
But for now, it seems like the Wild might be the second franchise to make the mistake of giving up on Latendresse.