Hello everyone! Trade deadline is tomorrow, getting excited? I know I am. I always love the trade deadline, it's always fun and intriguing to see big name players get traded and it can make or break some teams' seasons. The Wild are traditionnally not too active on deadline day however and they don't figure to be very active this time around either, but this is due to great chemistry as of late, good enough depth and the imminent returns of Mikko Koivu and Guillaume Latendresse. The problem here, is that there's a very, VERY tight playoff race in the West, and the Wild are smack-dab in the middle of it. Can they risk falling out of the race waiting for those two players, or do they need to act at the deadline? We've already talked about Koivu, now let's talk about Latendresse.
Please join me after the jump, and let's look at the situation more closely.
There are many factors in play when thinking of Guillaume Latendresse:
No clear timetable for his return
Latendresse is now practicing with the team and he travelled with the team to California on the weekend to practice, but we still do not know when he will be able to play. At least, he's on the right track and we could very well see him in the first weeks of March, but this begs the question: What if the Wild rush him? What if he comes back not quite 100% to try and help the team get that much-needed boost in offense?
Latendresse wouldn't be very good to us if he only plays one or two games and gets hurt again. The Wild need to think of Latendresse's health. Is it worth it to play him ahead of schedule to maybe get 2, 4 extra points but have him get hurt again? The Wild, and Latendresse himself, should make absolutely sure he's 100%, because not only would he risk injury, but he would probably have trouble producing, like we saw at the very beginning of the season with his nagging hip and groin.
Chemistry: Where would he fit?
Things are going pretty well for the Wild right now, everyone is contributing in their own way and we've got a good mix going. Where does Latendresse fit? It will depend on his play, like it has for his entire career. Latendresse is that kind of guy that if he dares slow down, he will move down, and that has always been rough on him.
Now, we all know what he is capable of when playing with his partner in crime, Martin Havlat, but now his line is rolling, currently playing with John Madden and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (usually Kyle Brodziak has Madden's spot), so when Latendresse comes back, assuming he plays well enough to coach Richards' liking, where does he go? Do you move Bouchard up on the first line (knowing Richards, that won't happen, even if it should), do you move him back down to the third line with Cal Clutterbuck? We know Clutterbuck can score and Bouchard is more of a playmaker, maybe they would work well together and Latendresse would be back with Havlat.
Do you put Latendresse on the first line with either Andrew Brunette or Antti Miettinen? These guys have slowed down considerably, even a few games before Koivu's injury (Although Mittens did get 3 assists last night, he still didn't play all that well.) Maybe it's time to FINALLY take one or both of them off the first line. Besides, they've no reason to be there without Koivu centering them. Do you put G-Lat on the third line with Clutterbuck? I wouldn't think so.
Latendresse is a top 6 type player, even though he was routinely capable of 15 goal seasons on Montreal's 4th line. Again, this may all depend on how well he does in his first few games back. It's likely he won't see much ice-time in those first few games and we'll probably get a better idea of the whole situation then. This, of course, brings us to the same question we've been asking ourselves since the end of last season:
Which Latendresse shows up? The 25 goals in 55 games one, or the Canadiens' fourth liner?
To be fair, Latendresse never truly deserved to be on the 4th line in Montreal. He had been given one real shot at the fourth line after Christopher Higgins had been injured close to (or during, can't remember) training camp and Lats filled in admirably as the complementary winger to Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay's line, bringing both of them near the league leaders in points.
Inexplicably though, once Higgins came back, it was back to the 4th line for Guillaume, no questions asked, no second chances. Turns out the 1st line started performing very poorly after Higgins' return and they never tried Latendresse again.
Last season, Latendresse amassed 37 points (25 goals) in 55 games playing with the Wild, mostly on the second line. This guy is just 23, and still has droves of untapped potential. As he said during his interview with RDS's L'antichambre (see my translation of it here), his game is all about confidence, something he didn't have playing in Montreal because he felt powerless. He felt like no matter what he did, he couldn't get to where he wanted to be, and even if he did, all it took was one mistake to go back down.
He couldn't handle the unfair expectations set upon him by the fans, expecting him to score 30 goals when he wasn't put in the right situation to do so. In Minnesota, he finally got that chance and he showed everyone what he's truly capable of. Now, are we sure that the kid that came to the Wild last November is the very same we have now? He started the season quite slowly, prompting Richards' to delegate him to the 4th line, which caused a panic in every Wild fan, but he got it together in time to get 3 goals and 3 assists in 8 games before going down with injuries. Eight games is hardly a valid sample, but he could've been on pace for a 50-60 point season, which would've easily made him a top player on this squad.
Will he be able to come back from injury and make an immediate impact? Hard to tell. I'm pretty sure no one expected PMB to get back in the mix so quickly after missing a year and a half, but that's likely an exception rather than the rule. I think it may take a few games for Latendresse to shake off the rust, and if we assume it is so, than is it wise to bank on his return and not get extra help?
Current trade rumors:
While most of the rumors linked to the Wild are center-related because of our current troubles at center with Koivu injured and Brodziak sick (he should be back monday though), Friday, Bryan informed us that sources close to our beat writer Michael Russo said that the Wild are interested in winger Dustin Penner of the Oilers.
For all intents and purposes, I see Guillaume Latendresse as Dustin Penner, but with less experience. They both play roughly the same brand of hockey, they're both huge players who can score and while Penner has better career numbers, he also played in better situations than Latendresse during his career. Latendresse was on pace last year for about the same number of goals (maybe even more) than Penner, but a few less points over a ful season with the Wild. Latendresse is also only 23, with plenty of room left to grow.
Also, if the Wild did acquire Penner, what would the lines look like? Would Penner replace one of our guys on the first line? Would he play alongside Havlat, relegating Bouchard and Latendresse to the third line? Would Penner play with Latendresse, seeing as Latendresse can play on both wings? My bet is that he would finally nudge Miettinen off the first line, but there's no clear way to tell because of that little thing called chemistry. Penner and Latendresse on the same line would probably be a horrible idea as they both play a much too similar style of play for it to work.
The Oilers are reportedly asking for defensive help and picks, but GM Fletcher made it quite clear he wasn't willing to part with the Wild's first-round pick, most likely because the draft is in Minnesota this year and the fans will want something to cheer about.
As for the defensive help, the names we usually come up with here are Brent Burns and Nick Schultz, but this season, Burns has truly emerged as a top two-way defenseman in this league, currently second in the NHL for goals by a defenseman and has been named an all-star.
This leaves us with Nick Schultz, who has always been a solid rock on defense for this team and has great leadership qualities. Would the Wild really be willing to part with this veteran defenseman and possibly screw up the chemistry on D, which has been rather spectacular this year? Not only that, but it's likely we would need to give up a prospect on top of all that (Check out Dan's Trade Deadline Prospects post).
Another way to look at this is that Penner would be locked up for another year at 4.250 million, and if we suppose that Schultz would be the player going Edmonton's way, he's got a 3.5 million cap hit for the next 3 seasons, and Brunette and Miettinen's contracts expire this year, so Penner wouldn't be much of a problem cap wise next year and we'd have a capable scorer on our top 6.
If Penner's price is too high, Latendresse should still be perfectly capable of filling that scorer's role seeing as he will probably be very similar to Penner as he advances in his career. Also, while it would be nice to acquire Penner, it wouldn't necessarily adress our pressing needs at center, so unless the price is right, Penner should be left well enough alone, as Latendresse's return could end up being similar to the Wild acquiring Penner. Consider for a moment that all Fletcher had to give for Latendresse was the one and only Benoit Pouliot.
What Happens Now?
In short, while scoring help would be welcome, it may be too expensive right now. The Wild are doing unbelievably well without it anyway. They've found a way to stay in every single game they've played since the New Year, they've finally figured out the system, have great chemistry and other-worldy goaltending.
As far as acquiring help, I believe it should be concentrated towards center, the biggest hole with Koivu's absence. Besides, Koivu and Latendresse returning will be exactly like pulling two big trades off without giving anything up.
The only thing to really worry about when it comes to Latendresse is when he'll actually be back. We can probably hold off without him, but of course, I'm not the one sitting in Chuck Fletcher's chair, and it's a good thing too, because he probably has massive headaches right now.
What do you think, Wilderness? How does Latendresse's inevitable return change the way you are thinking for tomorrow?