Monday, November 23, 2009

A scout's ego

A trade like the one that saw the Golden Boy shipped off for Benoit Pouliot always gets me wondering about what exactly a team's scout says to his GM to convince him on a player.

In the case of Latendresse, Wild scout Blair Mackasey has watched him play at least 50 times since being hired, seeing as he's a regular presence at the Bell Centre for Habs games. He's watched, like all of us have, how Latendresse has refused to play the role he's been given this year. How he's avoided the front of the net almost out of contempt for coach Jacques Martin, like he's telling him on every shift that there's more to his game than simply serving as a big body.

But that means Mackasey was also watching when Latendresse filled a valuable role last season as a third-line "energy" guy who dished out massive hits on the forecheck and chipped in offensively.

Meanwhile, in the Montreal scouting department, Pouliot was a well-known commodity. He was scouted extensively by the Habs leading up to the 2005 draft, and the braintrust here was convinced he could be the big, skilled centre the team lacked. And he was a Francophone to boot. I'd have to imagine Trevor Timmins caught a lot of his games with the Sudbury Wolves, and he has to believe the potential he saw can still come to the surface.

Basically, each scout had to convince their respective organizations that they had the system and the coaching staff to make these players realize their potential. If I were Mackasey, I would tell Wild GM Chuck Fletcher that Latendresse, when he was paired with Saku Koivu in the past, performed pretty well because he has soft hands around the net and a decent shot, even though his release is not lightning-quick. If he's paired with talented players on a consistent basis, he could score some goals for you.

If I were Timmins, on the other hand, I would tell Bob Gainey that there's no point weighing 230 pounds if you don't use it to its full potential by taking up valuable real estate in front of the net and, most importantly, staying there. If we're going to have a perimeter type of guy, might as well be someone with comparable size and who can skate.

Basically, someone like this:

That game was not even two weeks ago, and if Pouliot can do that on a consistent basis here once he return from this wrist injury, he should fit in just fine.

But that's the rub, Pouliot's ability to show consistent intensity levels, which is essentially what Martin appears to now be coaxing out of Andrei Kostitsyn. Latendresse's issue is not his intensity, necessarily, but his ability to recognize his own strengths rather than continuing to believe he's a player he's not. And the scouts on both sides of this trade have to believe they're seeing something the other team isn't.

If those are indeed the problems with the two players, I would have to believe the Wild have the upper hand in turning Latendresse around, because intensity is difficult to teach, but proper positioning isn't. And I don't think even his biggest detractors would ever accuse Latendresse of not working hard on the ice.

With Pouliot, here is a take from Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Pouliot was aggravating to watch at times because there was so much untapped talent. He scored 18 points in 65 career games, and motivation and processing the game seemed to be the problem. Former GM Doug Risebrough often bemoaned Pouliot's "professionalism."

A lack of "professionalism" can essentially be translated to an unwillingness to do what's necessary off the ice in order to have success on it. Pouliot has one DUI conviction on his rap sheet from three years ago, which is either a sign of a 19-year-old doing something stupid or of a more deep-rooted lack of discipline. Luckily for the Canadiens, discipline is something Jacques Martin does quite well.

And he will need to, because with Latendresse leaving town and Pouliot unable to play right away, that meant the recall of Sergei Kostitsyn from Hamilton. Martin will have to show a little more patience with the precocious younger brother than he did in training camp, but Kostitsyn better come here ready to listen to the coach every now and then as well.

Oddly enough, if Sergei suddenly explodes upon his arrival here, that alone would make the trade worth it for the Habs. Anything Pouliot would do at that point would be gravy, and there is the potential for that to be hell of a gravy.

Just imagine for a second if the status of the players in this deal were reversed, if the Habs had just traded a fourth overall draft pick for a player taken 41 picks later in the same draft. The Habs would be absolutely raked over the coals. So, don't they deserve a little credit for being on the other end of this deal? Because while Latendresse might still blossom into a very useful player in Minnesota, I highly doubt he'll ever be a star a la John LeClair.

Pouliot, on the other hand, just might. That's a lot of potential reward for little risk.


MathMan said...

Discipline is something Martin does quite well... so long as you're not talking about not having your team lead the league in minor penalties. Whoops.

Actually getting young players to produce, however, doesn't seem to be a strong suit of his, if the performances of his young veterans and rookies this year is used as an indicator. At least Gorges has been good, and Kostitsyn and Price are showing good signs, but for a while there the results were much worse than questionable.

Even if you like to call him "Golden Boy" (clearly not one of your favorite players), the fact remains that Latendresse has demonstrably been a productive generator of offense for the Habs over the last few years, something which he has failed to do under Martin -- or, perhaps it could be put as something that Martin has failed to get him to do? Even this year, despite the lack of scoring, Latendresse has had a positive impact on puck possession and been on the ice for more chances for than against, despite taking more faceoffs in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. In short, he was having a positive impact even before Martin benched him.

But it's clear Latendresse regressed a fair bit. Why is that? Presumably his skills didn't just vanish. Is it a work ethic issue? A personality conflict? Has the coach asked him to play a game in which he is not effective? Is he suffering from bad luck and was not given an opportunity to work through it?

Maybe that's what Mackasey saw -- a productive NHLer that was not being put in a position to repeat his prior successes. That would certainly justify recommending this trade to his bosses, no?

However it was, the Habs just shipped a young NHLer for a player with a worse track record, simply because the coach does not like him. This does not strike me as a recipe for success. Rationally, this should be a very upsetting trade, one that raises serious questions. That Pouliot is actually a gamble barely improves matter.

And really, here's another uncomfortable question: if Martin couldn't get a demonstrably capable NHLer like Latendresse going, why should we think he'll get better results with Pouliot, who has not been a productive NHLer before and has a reputation for work ethic problems and off-ice issues?

We seem to be assuming that Martin is good with young players. I don't think the evidence this year supports this conclusion, so far at least.

Sigh, listen to me. Not 25 games in, and I'm already entertaining doubts about the coaching... but I've been carrying this nasty feeling I can't shake and this trade only reinforces it. It's getting harder to give the benefit of the doubt.

These are young players and so things can change for them with time, but right now, the Wild seem to have come out with the significantly better player. This trade looks like a mistake to me.

Andrew Berkshire said...

Arpon I have no idea what you're talking about when you say Latendresse brings intensity. He does that for maybe one shift a game, and then floats around the rest of the time. He's been terrible this year. The one thing that frustrated me most about Latendresse since he first made the team was his lack of intensity. The kid is satisfied with mediocrity. He doesn't have the fire in his belly to respond to being benched or put on the 4th line. Look at how Andrei Kostitsyn, often called a zombie by his detractors has responded to being on the 4th line. It took awhile but he's playing some of the best hockey of his career right now.

As for Mathman, I saw you make a similar comment on Habs I/O. After just 23 games does Martin really have a 'record' with young players with the Habs? Because to be honest what he's done thus far with Price and both Kostitsyns has impressed me. He's had them battle through adversity and come out working harder and playing better.

Blaming Martin for Gui's lack of production is ridiculous since he basically admitted today on RDS that he's been phoning it in all season because he was pissed with his contract status. He didn't want to play for the team, so he floats and likely negatively affected Lapierre's play as well.

V said...

MathMan, Lats leaving may be indicative of a pattern... Martin does not tolerate entitlement and does not consider the big leagues the place to teach it.

From my perspective Lats did not have an attitude problem and yet from other posts it sounds like he admits to mailing it in a bit over discontent with his contract. This sounds familiar... remember the troubles he had getting over his demotion to junior.

With SK, Martin had a ready option - ship him to the minors where (by all accounts) an excellent coach awaits to work on him. We'll see how that worked. I don't believe that option existed for Lats.

Could they have benched him... yes. But trading instead of benching may simply mean they wanted Pouliot more. God knows how badly they want a big, French centre that can skate (I for one don't share that specific obsession) and in Pouliot they have some basic ingredients.

As for his attitude, we'll see. I understand that he has played a lot less in the NHL and may be available for work with the Bulldosg without worrying about waivers... I bet that's where he winds up for starters where the (excellent by most accounts Boucher) will work on him.

I was a Lats fan and will miss him. I hate it when we give up on intriguing prospects, especially those that have been damned serviceable and I share some of your concern. But Martin will use the period right up to the trading deadline to design this year's team... Lats was the latest domino to fall and likely won't be the last.

MathMan said...

"Because to be honest what he's done thus far with Price and both Kostitsyns has impressed me. He's had them battle through adversity and come out working harder and playing better."

Have you? Because I have been very unimpressed with the pattern with the young players so far. I'm glad that Price and the Kostitsyns have improved but seriously, I think Price is a result of Pierre Groulx and Sergei a result of Guy Boucher, and frankly I'm a little worried about the latter now that they've recalled him. I can't see him and Martin suddenly starting to work well together with the way the coach has worked. I'm also worried about MaxPac's development.

"MathMan, Lats leaving may be indicative of a pattern... Martin does not tolerate entitlement and does not consider the big leagues the place to teach it."

Then it seems likely Martin is not an appropriate coach for a young team like the Montreal Canadiens, possibly not for the NHL in 09-10. It's okay not to tolerate entitlement, even though I'd have to question favoring apparent effort over effectiveness, one of the things we complained about in Carbonneau. Until Latendresse was demoted and benched, he was simply a more effective player than Pyatt or White, and the advanced statistics show as much.

But an unwillingness to teach at the big leagues would be crippling. If this is the way the coach thinks then all the young rookies, MaxPac especially, need to be sent down to the Bulldogs *now* and be replaced by veterans. The way this team is structured, for the coach to be teaching young players is a necessity, and that's a pattern throughout the league where most teams have their rookies play younger than ever.

I don't like where this is going. Not at all. I'm giving Martin a mulligan over the lack of an effective system and the team's increasing appalling play because it's hammered by injuries (the weekend was great for the standings, sure, but they were robberies by the goalie, not good games by the team; about the only improvement from the team is that they're now giving the goalie the opportunity to steal the game). The PP system isn't great at all but, again, injuries aren't helping. But the way he deals with young players? I hope there's some sort of long-term plan here, because the only tool in his toolbox seems to be "sending a message!" and that's not going to work for everyone.

I really hope I am wrong because frankly I was envisioning Martin as this savior who would help a young Montreal team get to the next level and implement some structure that would put an end to the team's routinely terrible 5-on-5 play, but so far I'm rather disappointed.

MathMan said...

"Latendresse's issue is not his intensity, necessarily, but his ability to recognize his own strengths rather than continuing to believe he's a player he's not. And the scouts on both sides of this trade have to believe they're seeing something the other team isn't."

Heh, I was re-reading this line and I thought that maybe that was exactly the problem with Lats, but in the opposite direction. Martin -- and everyone else -- trying to make Lats into something he's not. Given that Lats was productive before, I'm inclined to lean towards the player in this case. If Latendresse hadn't been productive before , if he hadn't continued to drive possession positively even this year, then an obsession with having him stand in front of the net to improve him would have been justified, but it only seemed to make him worse and at some point you have to question the wisdom of that if the results aren't forthcoming.

I think if Minnesota's coach uses Lats to his strengths rather than reshape an effective player into a less effective one, this will quickly become even more of a steal for them.

V said...

Mathman... I didn't mean to imply Martin won't teach. I think his record shows people learn and buy into his approach. He may be a very good teacher.

But there is a level of development he expects at the big-leagues that includes the ability to hold oneself and have others hold you accountable. Entitlement (if that is the issue with SK and Lats) does not fit that mold.

I get the sense (from very limited data as it relates to the Habs) that he may consider this to be table stakes for players on his team. Without that basic sense of accountability, teaching is largely a waste of time and with so much to teach, he has not got the time to build this basic skill.

In my research and work with teams, the biggest gap between those that perform very well and those that don't is accountability. And if you don't have it when you reach the top, it is very time consuming to develop it. In addition, lack of accountability is infectious and erodes the speed with which you can work with others who do have that sense of accountability.

When I look at Max Pac, I see evidence that he is learning and becoming more effective (this with just over 20 games with Martin and his coaches) and there has never been a question about his sense of accountability.

One other thing I would suggest here... you can't separate the success that Martin's assistant coaches are having with players from his ability to teach. It's a team of coaches and they get equal credit/sanction for results.

Again, nothing definitive here. I am so far removed from the team I am a little embarrased to be even speculating about what the issues might really be... just guessing based on what I have seen.

nk said...

this is my favourite part of the article: "Oddly enough, if Sergei suddenly explodes upon his arrival here, that alone would make the trade worth it for the Habs. Anything Pouliot would do at that point would be gravy, and there is the potential for that to be hell of a gravy."

: )

MathMan said...

Frankly, I think it's a pretty silly way to look at it. Sergei could have been called up at any time without trading Latendresse, casting this as "Latendresse for Sergei and Pouliot" makes no sense as they already had Sergei to begin with. Montreal would have been a better team with both on their roster.

V said...

Agreed. Both were an asset when playing well. We did not have to move one to get the other.

pmk said...

Speaking of accountability - did you see Gui's interview on RDS? Brutal. Threw the team under the bus and took no personal responsibility at all...

Sliver24 said...

MathMan, I have to disagree with your stance on Martin with the younger players.

What Martin first has to do with prima donna youngsters, with talent that is only exceeded by their sense of entitlement, is essentially, break them. They have to know who the boss is and respect the fact that their fate is largely in his hands.

The best young players are the guys that know it instinctively. They're the ones that keep their heads down, work hard in practise, make the most of their chances when they get them, and are only written about in the media for anything other than their on-ice performance when their agents post drunken messages on Twitter.

Different guys will respond differently to a situation that pits them against their handlers. Where Sergei is showing signs that he may be willing to toe the party line (which essentially means he's realized that he has absolutely no power in his relationship with the coach), Latendresse looks like he is either more stubborn or just plain dumb. The fact that Lats was in a better bargaining position than Sergei, due to the Habs' inability to send him to the minors to ride the bus while earning 8% of his NHL salary, may have enhanced his stubbornness.

MathMan: "However it was, the Habs just shipped a young NHLer for a player with a worse track record, simply because the coach does not like him. This does not strike me as a recipe for success".

I don't this it's fair to assume that someone like Martin, with years of coaching experience at all levels of hockey, would treat a player based on anything other than what that player gives to the team. Jacques Martin is - and should be - only concerned with one thing. Winning.

Sure, there will always be personality conflicts in the room - including between bosses and employees - just like in any other work environment. But both parties need to be able to either resolve the issue or work around it. If one party is unwilling or unable to do so - and especially if that party is the employee - there's only one plausible solution.

There's also the team dynamic involved here. If a member of the team is not falling into line he's undermining the coach's authority with the rest of the players. The only way to regain that respect is to deal with the player causing the problem. After seeing the way insolence on the part of Sergei and Gui has been handled, I don't think anyone in the Habs' dressing room is wondering who is carrying the stick.

Now let’s hope Pouliot learns by example and not just personal experience.

V said...

Agree Silver... don't think SK is an example of bad coaching/teaching by Martin either. On the contrary, If SK comes back with the right frame of mind and performs effectively (and it looks like he may from reports), Martin should be given some credit for his role in turning that situation around.

Natedawg said...

Great Stuff Arpon.

MathMan said...

I hope you're right, Silver, but when the disappointment with young players is an early-season story for the Habs and Martin drives his GM to make an awful-value trade to get a formerly productive youngster out of his roster, I think questions are definitely in order.

Frankly, I think if this wasn't about Latendresse, we'd be seeing a lot more questions about the value of the trade.

Paul said...

I think we'd see less. A 45th pick traded for a 4th pick straight up in a situation where a change of scenery is just what the doc ordered for each one and no one would bat an eye. If it was anyone but Latendresse, he would be forgotten by Christmas.

MathMan said...

I'm not sure why people harp on draft ranking, to me it seems completely irrelevant at this point. Nobody, for example, would trade Paul Stastny for Pouliot, and Stastny was drafted just one spot before Latendresse -- not saying they are in any way equivalent, on the contrary, I'm just making the point that original draft ranking is meaningless.

One could argue instead that the Habs traded a draft steal for a draft bust.

Super-Youppi said...

Long story short:

- The Tender was a floater. Blame it on whatever you want, but he wasn't getting it done this year. He disappointed a lot of people. I am celebrating his departure. He clearly wasn't with the program this year.

- Sergei won't be suddenly exploding any time soon. Don't hold your breath on that one. And, he better not put himself ahead of the team again, or he will be sent packing for good.

- The coaching staff still has my full respect at this point. Keeping this injury-plagued team's head above water with a 0.500 record is decent. After Markov went down on opening night, I think that most of us would have settled for an 11-11-1 record after 23 games.

pfhabs said...


-listened to the RDS-Latendresse 2x last night to ensure I understood the kid's summarize

1. "MTL treats it's young players badly but other clubs like Columbus embrace them"...he cites the fact that his buddy/centre in Drummondville got a nice contract this past summer although injured

2. "I didn't ask for a trade because I knew it was coming anyway"

3. "my mind has been elsewhere for a while"

4. "when I played with Saku and Kovy I showed them what i Can do"

-well Gui you skate well enough to be on a 3rd or 4th line not the top 2

-the goals you scored with Saku and Kovalev could have been scored by anyone given who were setting you up...only problem is they had to wait for you to get into the zone

-you, your family and your agent pressured the CH to keep you in MTL as opposed to a demotion...a stupid GM acquiesed

-Gui your problem is that you think you are a professional and productive NHLer. kid let me tell you your shit does stink and you show the professionalism of a pee wee. 47 goals in 232 games is not productive

-too bad you got rushed into the NHL by a stupid decision but once there you owed yourself and your team mates your best at all times but you thought you were better

-enjoy the western conference the pace is faster and you'll need a better work ethic. so outside of being slow and taking time off on the ice you'll be OK with 1.5 hits per game

-kid you are an idiot and your friends in the press didn't do you any favours

V said...

Well, we agree on one thing. He is is a kid. So why insult him?

We drafted him, he tried his best to make the team and did and gave it as much effort as he was able to muster with the skills he was able to bring/develop. Why does that make him an idiot?

What did he do to you to deserve that condemnation?

john deere said...

I'm glad they made the trade whether it works out or not. Change of scenery can be good sometimes. Besides, if the Habs are planning to get better over the next couple of years via the free agency system, who cares? Get players you want to take a chance on instead of players you're sick off.

Thanks Apron, I enjoy your take on the Habs more than the Globe and Mail's version.

john deere said...

I should of spelled it Arpon instead. I'm surprised my spellchecker didn't catch it for me. Sorry.

pfhabs said...

mr V:

-its simple, he admitted on RDS that he's been mailing it in for some time and that indirectly his give a shit factor has been non existent

1. he hasn't tried his best and didn't give a 100% effort

2. he has a sense of entitlement and a lot of that was supported by a fawning francophone media who defaulted to a gars de chez nous position. that resulted in fan adulation that was not earned

3. in the end he's too stupid to understand his position...he's young, he's rich and adored by millions but he doesn't have the balls to work hard nor the humility to understand how priviledged he is in this country of hockey fanatics

-he had it all. all he had to do was work his ass off and be his best at all times...he had the world by the tail but decided he was above it all...for that he is an IDIOT

-btw; team ran a physical training camp in Pembroke area during summer. lots of physical fitness work. Latendresse and Lapierre showed up for the first hour and were not seen again.

btw2: the power skating courses he was taking in Ottawa area over the summer Latendresse only attended half of them

-like I say too stupid to understand how privelged he is as a NHL player and total lack of committment as a professional

-hope he realizes how easy he had it because it gets tougher in the western conference

-I have no time for the arrogance of youth and the lack of his RDS interview and judge for yourself but if I were his sibling I'd kick his ass

nk said...

PMK, what did lats say? I didn't see the interview.

Sliver, why does sergei have a sense of entitlement but lats is dumb or stubborn? sorry, they both have an utterly unwarranted sense of entitlement and i hope martin can 'break' sergei's as you mentioned.

Arpon Basu said...

Hey everyone,
Loving this discussion, just a few points from my mind. First, I really disagree when people call Latendresse a floater. Off the ice, in terms of conditioning, yes he may very well have been a floater. But on the ice I always felt he gave it his all. The two main problems that may give the impression he was slacking off were his lack of foot speed and his low hockey IQ. That's a pretty brutal combination, when you think about it, because often a player can account for his lack of one by being strong in the other. Not fast enough? Just go to where the puck is going to be before it gets there. And if you can't do that, but you're fast, you can make up for your lack of vision. Guillaume, unfortunately, lacks both speed and smarts, which is what made it so maddening that he wouldn't listen to repeated requests to just plant himself in front of the net. Had he shown a willingness to do so, a spot on the power play and the second line was his to take. And he didn't.
Also, regarding Martin's handling of younger players, I think it's a disservice to him to only judge him based on what he's done here. He turned all those young guys in Ottawa into responsible hockey players. Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat were defensive nightmares until Martin ran into them, and they learned two-way hockey while at the NHL level, so I think Martin is willing to teach to a certain extent. What he's not willing to do is deal with people who are not interested in learning, which is why he shipped Sergei to Hamilton. Look at Max Pacioretty, who is definitely being given an opportunity to learn on the job.

pfhabs said...


-you are absolutely correct re Sergei and a sense of entitlement. in fact I'll go you one better and say Sergei was dumber than Gui in this regard of being young and above the rest

BUT and its an important point Sergei missed the bus to Quebec and ignored the coach and found himself in Hamilton

Gui on the other hand ignored his coach (re positioning in front of the net)and was asleep when scratched from the Nashville game but should have been at the rink 1 hour before game time (team rule). unfortunate for him he got to play anyway

no press box, no Hamilton no punishment other than reduced minutes has been Gui's punishment

Sergei paid a heavy price in dollars and being sent to the minors. also other Hamilton players were called up before Sergei because they deserved the promotion and Sergei didn't according to Gainey. finally Sergei gets called up because as his assistant coach Martin Raymond just said in an interview he was our best forward, did everything we asked of him and had NO attitude issues. Sergei has conformed and was promoted and only time will tell if the lessons learned will last long term

Gui on the other hand unfortunately was in the NHL based on a management error in jugement. hasn't paid any price in terms of being demoted to the minors and I doubt he has learned anything given his completely infantile comments on RDS

-as for the interview go to the RDS website and on the rh side are video clips. you can find the summarized video there