posted by Rocket
It was the fall of 2008, and the Montreal Canadiens' training camp was all abuzz about the pre-season performance of a young power forward. He seemed to have all the tools: a unique blend of size, power, speed, and intensity.
"He's been a nice surprise since the beginning of camp in the sense that he's adapted to every position and to every role we've assigned him," said coach Guy Carbonneau.
This player was smart, gritty, initiated contact, and had a terrific shot.
“He really understands the game, too. Sure he makes mistakes, but that’s normal at his age. We will definitely have a tough decision to make,” concluded Carbonneau.
The coach was speaking about Max Pacioretty. The 19 year old Pacioretty was bringing an element to the Canadiens line-up that had not been seen for some time.
It was truly an 'Emperor-has-no-clothes' moment.
You see, we had been told that we already had a power forward, Guillaume Latendresse. It must be true because Gui had told us himself. It had been confirmed by some in the media. Why else would they keep mentioning his name, and rolling his highlights? And, what about all those fans who would chant his name just for stepping on the ice?
But this Pacioretty kid was different. It was obvious to many, including the coach and general manager. The rookie attending his first pro camp was challenging an established player for a spot in the lineup...and winning, hands down.
Even Latendresse seemed to sense it. When asked by a reporter about starting the season with the Bulldogs, Gui scoffed at the suggestion, curtly responding that it couldn't happen to a third year player.
Latendresse's response was very interesting. He didn't talk about his skills, his performance, or his desire. Instead, he surmised that he was entitled to stay in Montreal due to his tenure.
Carbonneau and Bob Gainey decided to send Pacioretty to Hamilton. But the decision had more to do with concern for Pacioretty's long-term development.
Most knew that Latendresse had not earned the right to stay with the Canadiens. For Gui, the decision probably only served to confirm his view that he didn't need to win the competition. He was entitled to the roster spot.
Today, November 23, 2009, Bob Gainey put an end to Latendresse's illusion of his entitlement.
Following the trade announcement, we witnessed a scene reminiscent of a spoiled child after HIS toy has been taken away. Latendresse was bitter, and before departing took the opportunity to lash out at the organization that had given him opportunities without the demands and restrictions they placed on others.
Latendresse claimed that he wasn't given a chance this season, and the reason was personal. The coach didn't like him. Gui said, "I knew it was coming, I was not a favorite of Jacques Martin. I understood it for a long time. For me it was easy to see."
But that is certainly contrary to the fact that coach Martin gave Latendresse every opportunity to shine. He was far more patient with Gui than with some of his other players.
But this isn't the first time Latendresse has complained about a coach. Last year, Gui said that the coach hadn't made it clear what he wanted from him. "I really don't know what more (coach Guy Carbonneau) wants. It came as a surprise, I really didn't understand 100 percent. He may be expecting me to bring more to the offense. I must just carry on and try, despite my lack of confidence," said Latendresse.
Yes, when one has an entitlement, they feel that they don't have to be accountable or bear any responsibility.
Throughout the pre-season, Latendresse received plenty of first line ice-time. But Gui looked out of place and had trouble keeping up. Nevertheless, for the first 16 games of the season, Latendresse averaged 13 minutes of icetime per game. On most nights, he was on the first wave of the power play getting a chance to line up with the Canadiens' best players.
But didn't Gui infer that the coach didn't like him? Didn't he say that he hadn't been give a chance?
The truth is that even though there was little or no production from Latendresse, the coach had been very generous with his icetime.
However, all that changed on November 7th. In a game against Tampa Bay, Martin benched Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre. Martin explained, "I went with people that I felt were ready to go to war." Clearly, Latendresse was not one of them.
Martin's patience had been exhausted. During a stretch of seven games, Latendresse's icetime was cut to eight minutes per game. Gui seemed to respond with indifference.
When the coach announced to Latendresse that he would be spending a game watching from the press box, Gui decided that a team rule to be at the arena an hour before game didn't apply to him. He was sound asleep in his hotel room.
How would Latendresse be punished? Sergei Kostistyn was late for a bus and was sent to Hamilton for 20+ games. How would coach Martin deal with a player who broke a rule and intended to sleep while his teammates played a game?,
As we know, Latendresse was rushed into service at the last minute to replace an ailing Brian Gionta. No consequences.
Again, Gui's claim of being victimized by the coach doesn't seem to hold up.
Instead, we see evidence of a player who had alienated himself from the rest of his teammates and his coach by his performance and his attitude. As Latendresse said himself today, "My mind was already elsewhere."
Latendresse was given an opportunity that few ever get and he took it for granted. He was blessed with size. His fans adored him. Many in the media were prepared to trade their credibility to become his cheerleaders. Yet, Gui wasn't willing to do his part and provide the necessary effort.
While Latendresse is quick to point fingers, it may be time to be responsible and do some objective self-reflection. As in the Hans Christian Andersen book, by looking in the mirror, Latendresse could discover that the pretense of him as a first line power forward in the NHL, is quite unrealistic and empty.
For further reading: Latendresse as a Power Forward: Myth or Potential (Nov. 27, 2008)