Should the Oilers pursue Guillaume Latendresse?

Jonathan Willis
June 09 2012 04:04PM

One of the Oilers’ top perceived needs is a big power forward who can play on a skill line while adding size and some crash and bang. In a perfect world, that player would be young enough to fit in with the team’s current core of young players, and not cost an arm and a leg to acquire.

It’s a tall order. And that’s exactly what makes Guillaume Latendresse so appealing.

Latendresse is listed at 6’2” and 230 lbs. He just turned 25 in May. In his last full NHL season he scored 27 goals in 78 games. For good measure, he added 157 hits. He hits a lot of the descriptors that the Oilers are looking for. It even seems possible that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

There’s just one problem. His last full season was 2009-10.

According to Latendresse, after two seasons with a total of 27 games played, he’s finally back to where he needs to be to stay in the lineup. In a piece by the Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo, Latendresse said this:

It's like I never had any concussion. I feel 100 percent. I'm doing training like before. I have nothing. I can't even remember when my last headache was.

Given his age and NHL experience, normally Latendresse would be a restricted free agent; however, the player does not expect the Wild to make a qualifying offer (equal to his current base salary of $2.6 million) to retain his rights:

I know I won't get a qualifying offer. I'm 100 percent sure about that. It's pretty obvious with my last two years.

According to Russo’s piece, Latendresse is still in talks with the Wild. Agent Pat Brisson met with Wild G.M. Chuck Fletcher, and the two have plans to meet again. Latendresse will return to Minnesota later in the month to be cleared by team doctors. Russo suggests that the Wild have a pair of options:

The Wild will likely do one of two things: Cut Latendresse loose, which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent July 1; or sign him to a one-year contract that includes games played and performance bonuses [because of his time on injured reserve, Latendresse meets the requirements for an incentive-laden contract].

If the Wild do the former, the Oilers will have an opportunity to add Latendresse, and that’s exactly what they should do.

Unlike previous players they’ve taken a flyer on – Cam Barker comes to mind – Latendresse has been a good player in the past at even-strength. In 2009-10, despite seeing more time in the defensive zone than the offensive zone, he had solid possession numbers – the Wild were outshot to a far greater extent with him off the ice than they were with him on it. The same was true in 2008-09 with the Montreal Canadiens.

He’s not a perfect player. Injuries are a definite concern. In Russo’s piece, Chuck Fletcher note that Latendresse is an excellent player when he’s healthy and he’s motivated, and that those were his two concerns. Fitness has occasionally been an issue in the past. McKeen’s Hockey notes the following about his physical game:

[E]ffective when using his superior size and strength to lay out big hits and drive for the net .. still an erratic physical presence who doesn’t always bring the required belligerence or intensity .. oscillates between the extremes sometimes on the same shift .. provided a needed big-body presence in the top six here – creating possession down low and making hard plays to the crease…

The concerns outlined above are real and valid – especially with respect to his health. The Wild may decide Latendresse is worth the gamble, or Latendresse and his agent may opt to see if they can get more money via free agency.

If the latter happens, the Oilers are in a unique position to make an offer. 2012-13 is the last season where cap space is unlikely to be a significant concern (the deals of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle expire at the end of the season), so it’s the ideal year to take a chance on someone like Latendresse. He’s young, big, often physical, and more importantly he’s a pretty good possession player who has consistently been a high-percentage goal-scorer over his NHL career (on 568 career shots, Latendresse is a 14.3% shooter; he’s never been below 12.0% in a single NHL season). He fits team need perfectly.

The opportunity may not come up, but if it does the Oilers should make sure that they take advantage of it.

P.S. To get a feeling for Latendresse’s character and personality, I highly recommend the French-language interview translated here at Hockey Wilderness:

This week by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.