L.A. Lavierre of TVA Sports and confirmed by Michael Russo of the Star Tribune and Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Guillaume Latendresse has decided to try his luck in free agency. This comes after Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher declined to qualify the often-injured forward for $2.5 million as a restricted free agent. Although Latendresse agreed with the team that he didn't deserve that money, the two sides were unable to come to an agreement and the Quebec-born Latendresse now looks to be closer to his 4 year-old son as he told Russo
“It’s not that I didn’t want to go back," Latendresse said. "It’s not that the contract was not good. It’s not that I didn’t like the way the team was working or anything. It’s really a personal matter more than anything. I would have loved to go back to Minnesota, but sometimes you have to make decisions for your family and for your future.Now, Latendresse will have his pick of destinations.
“And I think my son would be better if he could be closer to me.”
Taking out faces and names, bringing back a guy who played 27 games over the last two seasons at $2.5 million and no incentive sounds foolish. Minnesota has had its fair share of injuries during that time (and then some) yet seems that to many, not bringing back a fan favorite like Latendresse is the end of the world. Although the "I want to be closer to my son" talk did come of nowhere - and sounds like it was a public relations answer to appease fans - after a week where many reports were that the two sides would make a deal, that's not the issue.
Gui is the biggest name that won't be back next season (others are Kurtis Foster, Cody Almond and Nick "F***ing All-Star, Jr" Johnson) and as time has gone on others have passed him in terms of "core status." It's hard to blame Fletcher and Minnesota for attempting to get an incentive-laden deal done with Latendresse given his last two seasons on the team have featured a torn labrum and concussions, respectively. The memory of 25 goals in 2009-2010 remains and despite that, it raises a valid point with or without Gui.
The Wild need scoring. Badly.
One of the reasons why Fletcher traded Martin Havlat to San Jose for Dany Heatley last summer was because the team was looking to improve on their 26th place goals per game performance in 2010-11. Havlat was the leading scorer with 22 goals and the only one who scored more than twenty but with the loss of Andrew Brunette (18 goals), Brent Burns (17 goals) and Antii Miettinen (16 goals), the need for a player who could put up 25-30 goals was needed. Heatley put up a career-low 24 goals in 2011-12, which did lead the Wild and were an improvement from Havlat's production, and that was one of the few positives.
Same goes for trading Minnesota's top offensive defenseman Brent Burns. Devin Setoguchi, a former 30-goal scorer who was one of three forwards received in the Draft night trade, only scored 19 goals as he struggled to find consistency and battled a pair of injuries. He wasn't alone as injuries took out other players who were hoped to be counted on like Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (12 goals in 59 games) and captain Mikko Koivu (12 goals in 55 games); in fact the lack of depth was so bad where at one point in the year Heatley was the sole top-six forward (and he had off-season surgery!). The team finished dead last in the league averaging 2.02 goals per game (a drop of .46) with the nearest team .27 above them and the lowest total since the NHL Lockout in 2004.
As for Burns, his 37 points for the Sharks were fourteen higher than the nearest Minnesota defenseman (Jared Spurgeon) and 11 goals were three less than the entire Wild team.
It's hard to fully blame players when other teams are able to focus on a single line or player due to a lack of depth and injuries. On one hand, Minnesota had a worst-case scenario year last season with the number of players who spent time on injured reserve, which is hard to believe can happen again. The team's depth will be better prepared (even without free agency) although many of the players the Wild is counting on will be rookies. On the other hand, without adding anyone in free agency the team is hoping on its present core to overachieve and then some just to get out of the scoring cellar.
And that doesn't include getting any additional help from the blue line.
Guillaume Latendresse has proven that when he's put in a shoot-first situation he can be a goal scorer. Even in only 16 games last season Latendresse was able to score 5 goals; a pace that is slightly less than his 25 in 55 games from 2009-10 yet sadly places him 11th on the team below Erik Christensen (6 goals in 29 games). While he's not healthy enough to be completely relied upon, the underlying issue is that the team needs to find more reliability scoring in 2012-13 whether or not Guillaume Latendresse plays for the Wild.