Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Adjusting Latendresse

No player on the Canadiens club the past two seasons has been as maligned and as misunderstood as Guillaume Latendresse. His critics are many, and they often point to deficiencies in his skating and his lack of quickness

Feeding the fire is the always moronic language argument that has lead many to believe that there is favoratism involved in him being in the NHL rather than the AHL.

He's not in the NHL because he has a big league shot!

And surely he's not in the NHL because he has the physique to deliver punishing hits!

He couldn't possibly be in the NHL because he has produced goals at a rate worthy of player on the top two lines, while getting third and fourth line shifts!

Of course not!

He's in the NHL simply because he's french!

And of course, the Canadiens need all the slow footed francophones they can get their mits on in order to fill that half Bell Centre!


No one will never disputed that his skating and quickness need work - lots of it. To that point, neither does the player, as he works on that aspect of his game with great effort, both in the offseason and during the year. If you haven't read about it, it's likely because you choose not to.

That he turns with all the agility of a tank is one thing, but his top speed is a more deceptive assessment when evaluating a big man.

Lost in the mire of the coach's pet bullshit many allude to, is the fact that Latendresse has produced at an NHL level for two seasons now. Not only have his numbers been comparatively good for a player his age, but they stack up well against team mates in important categories.

What needs to be adjusted most in respect to Guillaume Latendresse, are people's expectations of what he should have given the club as a 19 and 20 year old in his first two NHL seasons. Perceptions of what he can become one day, also need fine tuning.

Who are we asking this kid to be?

For two training camps, starting when he was 18, Latendresse was the team's leading scorer during exhibition games. He produced while playing on lines involving the clubs better players, and he continued to post numbers when given lesser linemates.

Of course the local press built him up to be the next Guy Lafleur, but is that his fault?

Maybe he shouldn't have done so good?

His successes lead to the club making some tough calls. In his second try, he made the team.

Since that time, he's received more vegetables than roses because in the eyes of some, his deficiencies outweigh what game he brings.

Part of what the Montreal Canadiens have done better than many other organizations in the past four seasons is nurture talent. They've drafted good players, but they have brought them along in even better ways.

The Habs brass have a knack for assessing exactly where a player sits in terms of being an NHL'er. They have precise ideas of what challenges a player needs to be faced with to improve, and they understand exactly what form of utilization is called for in order for a given player to rise and meet that challenge.

On that note, two seasons ago, they deemed Latendresse ready for the NHL challenge. While the player has endured the expected rough spots, he has fared well enough to resist demotion.

The Canadiens also take into great consideration that Latendresse's challenges involve more than just skating and speed issues. Trials dealing with mental toughness, defensive accountability, and adaptation are no longer facets of the game that he can profit from by toiling in the AHL.

Such a scenario would only occur if he regresses or requires discipline, and Latendresse takes matters too seriously for such a thing to happen.

In his first NHL season and his second, he scored 16 goals.

His second season's icetime dropped from 1008 total on ice minutes down to 894. The 114 minute decline can be attributed to not replacing an injured Chris Higgins on the club's top line for a twelve game stretch, as he did in 2006-07.

In the 2007-08 season, the loss of those quality minutes did not drop his goal production.

If one were to do a rough calculation of his goals per ice time ratio, in 2006-07, only three players did better, and this past season, the Kovalev line and Higgins, with substancially more ice, did better.

For his first season, Latendresse scored a goal for every 63 minutes of icetime, followed by one in every 59 minutes last season. Here's a breakdown:


Ryder (30) 1:45
Higgins (22) 1:50
Plekanec (20) 1:58
Latendresse (16) 1:63
Koivu (22) 1:67
Souray (26) 1:72
Kovalev (18) 1:74


Kovalev (35) 1:46
Kostitsyn (26) 1:47
Plekanec (29) 1:50
Higgins (27) 1:55
Latendresse (16) 1:59
Ryder (14) 1:66
Koivu (16) 1:87

When a player is statistically the third or fourth best shooter on the club as offensively minded as the Canadiens, it tells something.

This is especially true when the player is not benefitting from top line status, and is endeavoring to keep pace with different line mates on a constant basis.

Aside from scoring, Latendresse's game is slowly rounding out in other areas.

In both his years, Latendresse was third on the team in hits, despite his icetime. His plus minus was a brutal -20 in his rookie campaign, but a more than respectable -2 last season. Those improvements are attributable to nothing else but hard work and focus.

Considering the unjustifiable amount of pressure the kid is under as a local, his young age, and his limited skills in the skating department, I'd say the boy has done exceptionally well overall

When you figure in the atmosphere of negativity that he pursues his craft in, it could be said that Latendresse has almost overachieved in spite of it.

I think that for the player he is, he has done phenominally well for his age.

A prosperous, positive atmosphere, can only help him.

It is sickening how fans, and not just the french fans and media, treat what could eventually turn out to be a key componant in the club's offensive game. Night in and game out, he's harped on for not being what everyone wishes he was. Instead, he ought to accepted and valued for what he is.

If the Canadiens weren't grooming a player of his type, it would be demanded that it go out and get one.

As it stands, Latendresse will begin this season, his third, as a 21 year old potential 20 goal scorer. He'll continue to draw mostly third and fourth line duty while achieving that, but he's more than ready to be centered by either Koivu or Robert Lang, where he should prosper.

With improving skating and better conditioning, he'll be more adjusted to play in both ends, as well as continuing to hit like a piledriver.

What team wouldn't want a player such as Latendresse on their third line?



Topham said...

You're joking Robert, right?

That player with the soccer ball is not our Gui?

Maturity and a willingness to learn make Latendresse a valuable asset.

It may be that Lang is the cntre that finally suits his game.

Robert L said...

The photo is from one year ago at this time, inside the Bell.

Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,

You're bang on as far as I'm concerned. I like the goal per minutes stat. That being said, you have to consider all those other guys had lots of PP time, which more then likely gives them a better average.

Also, I wrote this before (in a previous Gui article from you I believe), but the kid dominated in junior because he struck fear in his opponents. He was a man in a boys league. For the last 2 seasons he's been a boy in a man's league. No one in the NHL gave him that extra room. He has to learn to deal with that.

Gui might never turn out to be a superstar, but big guys - or power forwards if you will - usually take more time to develop (just look at the development curb for guys like Bertuzzi, Malone, Cole, Franzen, Brown, Homstrom...).

Of course he needs to pick up on his skating, to be less hesitant in the defensive zone (better positioning in general actually) and go pay the price in front of the net but he's still young, those things he can learn and do better. The most important thing is that the raw talent is definitely there.

He will for sure play on a (let's hope regular) line with offensive upside this year and we'll see how he does.

I'm confident he will eventually be an invaluable member of the team, posting 50 pts+ on top of throwing his weight around. We just need to be a little patient. Maybe when Pac is on the team it will take some of the pressure off and let Gui just be Gui...

Keep up the good work Robert, always enjoy reading you.


James said...

Great Article Robert, now when somebody starts ripping on Lats, im just gonna send them to this rather than argue myself. Lats, Koivu, and even Higgins get attacked far to often by ignorant "fans."

On a side note, I've been coming to your site for probably a little under a year now I guess, and though I don't always agree with you, your level of writing has consistently improved. Keep up the great work, you've made your way into my top three hockey writers.

Robert L said...

Thanks so much James...I'm not even in my own top 10!

I hate seeing a young player, full of potential, and giving his all, getting constantly nailed. Save that for the overpaid, indifferent veterans who show up once every contract year!

Justin said...

Thanks for putting down on paper how I feel about lats.
Keep up the good work, and dont let the nay sayers get you down.

Robert L said...

Thanks Jason. The nay sayers actually get me up, as you can see!

E said...

great post, robert. made me rethink a lot of things.

i think there are two main reasons that latendresse gets so much criticism: first, he started playing for the nhl team at 18. in recent years, the habs have tended to keep players in hamilton at least a couple of seasons. jumping him straight to the big show implied that he was really really sensational; perhaps people got overexcited. also, he's a slowish skater on an unusually fast team. on a lot of teams, he'd just seem a little lagged, but compare him to a lot of the canadiens other young forwards (the kostitsyns, plekanec, the late-mostly-unlamented grabovski) and he looks almost freakishly slow sometimes. it's not fair, but people do judge a lot on obvious visual cues like that.

my concern, personally, is not whether or not he's a good player but whether or not carbonneau knows what to do with him. last year it seemed to be difficult to find a slot on the depth chart appropriate to his potential- he got bounced around everywhere, and ended up getting a lot of leftover fourth line minutes, which is far from ideal for his development. hopefully this year he can get a more regular position.

i wonder what lats' qualcomp was, vis-a-vis the rest of the team?

Mark said...

Hey Robert - In relation to goals per time on ice, you might be interested in what some stats guys are doing with numbers like EV60 (even strength goals for per 60 minutes) and others that take things past G-A-Pts...

The guys at Battle of Alberta are doing a good job explaining it, although it has a Flames focus

Robert L said...

E - IT IS great to hear from you!

You've brought up something that never crossed my mind!

It is very true that on a lightning team, he'd look as though he is standing still.

As per how Carbonneau utilizes him, I think that job got a whole lot easier with Lang's arrival. He could fit with him or Koivu.

For the first two seasons, he didn't exactly toil with blue chip pivots!

In that interim, Carbonneau has had him focus on positioning and defensive schemes.

All that will pay off big this season!

Robert L said...

Mark, thanks for the tip.

I've seen their work, and it is good. They caught my eye with something like that on Tanguay awhile back.

I'll have to check them out some more and figure out their math.

I could use the added perspective here!


fvincent (revolution no9) said...

No need to do any math. A guy named Mike at U NB has crunched the numbers.

Jean-Francois said...

Very good article. I really like your style and open-mindness. And to andwer that question "
Of course the local press built him up to be the next Guy Lafleur, but is that his fault?" No. It's mine. I was at the Bell Centre a couple of years ago when Latendresse, on his first NHL camp, was playing an unbelievable game against Tampa Bay (I think) and the fans were screaming "Guillaume, Guillaume" and I couldn't believe nobody saw the joke. I had to do it so I started to chant "Guy, Guy, Guy" like the old days of Lafleur and I was lucky enough (or Gui was unlucky enough) that the friend with me and a whole section of young fans (about 20 guys 20-25yr old) heard me and started to chant it too. Inside a minute, the whole Bell Centre thought my joke was good enough to jump in.

I'm sorry. I should have known the Montreal media would go crazy because of it.

I won't do it again.

Anonymous said...

Robert, you present a great case as usual. I think the young fellow deserves a chance as well but it was never his skating that bothered me.

I look at the tools he has and remember that I saw games where he skated a lazy s around the slot. I don't see a hungry player, but can imagine his abilities with a Crosby drive.

The stats are interesting as well thanks. So why is Ryder gone :-)?


Marc C said...

I can't speak for every Hab fan, but for myself, my disappointment in Guillaume is more the direction the team chose to bring him in. He had a great 1st camp, a good 2nd camp. Made the team. With the presence he showed in those camps, I thought he should go to Hamilton, NOT Montreal. If he's to develop into a power forward, then he needs time to grow and learn the pro game.

It seems like the team gives into the pressure of fast-tracking local guys and in turn, it hurts their development. I doubt ANYBODY can argue that Guillaume would not have been well served by a season in Hamilton to get used to the speed of pro hockey. But instead Guillaume was brought up and thrown into the fire, much like Mike Ribeiro was years ago. Of course the kid will accept it and try to persevere, but it's up to management to protect these guys.

Marc C

Robert L said...

Sorry Marc, but you're wrong on three counts.

The Canadiens cannot send a 19 yr old to Hamilton. He would have had to go back to junior, where he would have learned little.

I doubt Bob Gainey worries about the media pressue. The team kept Latendresse in Montreal because they assesses his game at being at NHL level at the time. He scored 16 goals - they were right!

Ribeiro was rushed, but his upbringing was under a different reign, before Gainey.

Jeff said...

Finally somebody stood up for the Kid! The constant bickering fans of the Habs also make me sick, especially when young players are concerned. Latendresse plays his heart out every game and is only improving with every stride. You hit the nail again Robert. We all need to stop these surreal expectations of our young talent. Imagine if Pacioretty turns out to be a bust. The fans and more so the media will tear his heart out. They've alreday pegged him as the future POWER WINGER of our beloved team. You write well Robert because you write honestly and without compromise. It's very refreshing. thank you.

Robert L said...

Thanks Jeff, if ever I become vain enough to post readers comments about my style in the sidebar, your last line would be right up there!

Hopefully my little rant changed a few minds.

Thanks for tuning in.

Anonymous said...

Riberio was not rushed. He was old enough and did go to the AHL. As for Tender, it was refreshing that the habs didn't let someones age be the determining factor on making the team.

Robert L said...

Ribeiro was old enough, yes...but nowhere near mature enough to deal with Montreal at the age he was brought in. That is why I considered him rushed. The hockey package was more advanced than the mentality, and in his case, it still is.