To end your professional hockey career at 26 years old is tough, but it might be the decision that forward Guillaume Latendresse will have to make.
Recently cut from the Zurich Lions of the Swiss League, the former second round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens is contemplating whether he should hang up the skates. Latendresse suffered a concussion on October 29th against Servette Geneva, which was certainly not his first serious concussion as he had issues in both junior hockey and in the NHL. Injuries, from back spasms to groin injuries to concussions have cut the time on a once promising career.
In 2003, Latendresse was the second overall pick in the QMJHL minor draft behind one Sidney Crosby. He was later drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 2005 with their second round pick, a pick they swapped selections to get. Latendresse wore number 84, the first player in NHL history to wear it. It was a fitting number, as “Big Brother” in the Canadiens faithful watched his every move. He made the Canadiens in 2006-2007, a move which many felt was early. Pressure was high for the 6’2”, 230lb French Canadian, since he covered the bases of two coveted elements the Canadiens media pressured the team needed: French Canadian presence and a power forward. Latendresse would play with limited minutes, always averaging under 14 minutes a game in the three seasons he played for the Habs. Despite this, Gui (which the Bell Centre would chant, like they once did for Guy Lafleur and then Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau) still found a way to score in the double digits without powerplay minutes. His 11 even strength goals in his rookie season tied him for second on the team. Subsequent seasons he always added double digit even strength goals despite averaging only 13:36 in his final full year with the Habs.
In 2009-2010, Latendresse started the season cold and publicly complained about his minutes, now the average down to 11:21. The Canadiens, still with the open wound of a tumultuous 100th Anniversary Year, shipped Gui to the Minnesota Wild for struggling 2005 first round pick Benoit Pouliot. In interviews, Latendresse expressed disappointment in the trade but wanted to prove his worth on the Wild. Increasing his minutes to 16:27 on average, Latendresse found the net 25 times in 55 games for 37 points. The increase in goals was assisted by seven powerplay goals, finally finding time on the special teams unit. Latendresse wasn’t spiteful to the Canadiens, stating his mind wasn’t in the right place at the end of 2009 and that the trade was a good thing for him. He even expressed interest in returning to the Canadiens in the future.
Unfortunately, the upswing in Latendresse’s career was halted by injuries, starting with a groin injury that kept him out for 58 games, and lost most of the 2010-2011 season. This was followed soon after by a concussion that kept him now out of 65 games in 2011-2012. Due to starting in the NHL at such an early age, Latendresse was able to go straight to free agency at only 25. He signed with the Ottawa Senators, despite hopes from some he would return to Montreal. It was suspected Latendresse went to Ottawa due to its close proximity with Quebec. Gui’s time on the Senators showed serious decline from the groin and concussion injuries, as well as various shoulder and back injuries. Latendresse found himself on the bench for a lot of games, only playing three in the post-season. For Canadiens and Senators fans, their last image of Latendresse will be the once hopeful 6’2” power forward backing down to a challenge at the end of a playoff game against agitator Ryan White. It’s now unfortunately the last image of him in the NHL. Latendresse tried out in the 2013-2014 off season for the Phoenix Coyotes but was cut before regular season began.
Not yet 27, Latendresse is likely to hang up the skates. While not as tragic as the end of Blake Geoffrion’s retirement, Latendresse is still a once promising player held in high regard cut short by countless injuries. It’s the sort of situation where one takes pause and hopes he saved smart for his wife and child, gets proper treatment for any post-concussion symptoms and finds solace in a his career off the ice. Some may say Latendresse was the victim of expectations, but it’s clear that when healthy, the kid could score.
Hopefully the first 84 is a lesson to fans and players alike that you can’t predict the future, or control it.
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