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A hero of the nation exits on his shield Add to ...

Well, what a day in the Distinct Society (tm).

What with the Habs tweaking the noses of the hockey gods by trading surefire Hall of Famer Guillaume Latendresse for an old pair of Cooperalls and the former fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Guess that's it for the Cup hopes this year, eh?

That the deal would come on a Monday after a Parti Québécois national council where the sovereignist party tried to put the old jumper cables to the language debate - esentially: no English CEGEP for them immigrants - is probably something the Habs didn't consider.

Memo to l'Organisation: you may want to lay a little groundwork next time with a well-timed leak, our e-mail address is on the right and French Immersion operators are always standing by.

For those determined to see conspiracies - bonjour Réjean Tremblay, comment ça va? - the departure of Latendresse is yet another humiliation.

Never mind that Tender was replaced by another Francophone, in the form of Minny underachiever Benoit Pouliot.

Quoth CKAC host Jean-Charles Lajoie: "on remplace des Québécois par des Franco-Ontariens".

Now, Lajoie is an imbecile, a cretin and a plagiarist, who to use author Dany Laferrière's deliciously withering expression, "lives beyond his intellectual means."

And this here Franco-Ontarian will be pleased to teach Lajoie some manners if he ever decides to man up and, you know, actually show up at a practice or game involving the team he purports to know so well.

Latin blood boils in these veins too, big boy.

But that doesn't mean Lajoie doesn't represent a sizable constituency in the wacko nationalist fringe (speaking of which, our friend Reggie Tremblay was on t'radio this morning wringing his hands over what grim fate awaits Max Lapierre, who apparently saved last season. Uh, waiter, we'll have what he's having.) Truly, faithful readers, the fallout from the Latendresse deal is breathtaking. And this one has excited the passions at FI.

This whole episode is a microcosm of the wider language debate, which for all its sterile-ness continues to underpin almost every public gesture in Quebec.

It really is the kaleidoscope through which life is viewed - and we deplore the distortions from both ends of the thing, the Anglo crazies are no better, the fact is we live in an adolescent society.

L'affaire Latendresse also illustrates all that is wrong with the Habs.

Bob Gainey, who merits his share of criticism for his personnel decisions (this is, after all, a terribly conservative organization that has great trouble developing its youngsters), is being slated as the second coming of Lord Durham.

But what, pray tell, was he supposed to do?

Latendresse has two goals this year. Two. And is on pace to score eight in his fish-or-cut-bait year. He's a restricted free agent next July (like Pouliot, who makes an identical salary).

His coach thought so little of Latendresse, he wanted to make him a healthy scratch 10 days ago, but ended up playing him because Brian Gionta was hurt.

Don't get us wrong, we love Gui! Gui! Gui!

He's funny, personable, smart, pithy, gives great quote in both official languages. He's only 22, and has massive potential.

He's also a deeply frustrating hockey player, blessed with wonderful hands and an accompanying lack of determination, whose skating has regressed to Laraque-ian levels.

Former teammate Frankie Bouillon, who now Predates in Nashville, recently said the single most devastating thing we've heard about Latendresse: that he should spend less time talking to opposing players and worry more about his own game than making friends on other teams.

Ouch.

And that's really the nub of the problem. He's too nice a guy to be the nasty corner behemoth/cage disturber the organization envisions.

Not a drop of Neely in him.

Plus, his life in Montreal was perhaps a mite too comfortable.

Sure, he bitched about the pressures of being a homegrown Hab in his exit interviews - and boy, did he do interviews, hey Gui, I think there's a parish newsletter in St. Donat you forgot to call - but where else in the NHL is a third- or fourth-line player likely to get as much adulation and space in the gossip rags? (although some of that is due to his pop star girlfriend) Add it all together and you get a sense of entitlement - when's the last time anyone told Latendresse he was anything less than hard-done-by? Who in his orbit didn't think he was getting screwed out of his rightful place as a top-six forward with regular power-play time?

Knowing that, we suppose it's forgiveable for him not to see that he needed to get his proverbial together once lesser talents like Ryan White and Tom Pyatt passed him on the depth chart.

That he's had the gall to complain about the Habs preferring to give more ice to less talented people, though? Do us a favour.

Jacques Martin tried to light a fire under Latendresse, but apparently his attentions were diverted by Andrei Kostitsyn.

Call it French Immersion's first law of hockey: an NHL team has room for only one highly-skilled pooch-worrier.

We reckon the change of scenery will benefit Guillaume, as it has others like Mike Ribeiro, who was socializing his way out of the league in his hometown.

It should also stand as a cautionary tale for all the armchair experts who wanted to see the Perrrons and Brassards in Montreal but don't understand that they almost certainly couldn't have become so good so fast playing in their home province.

Latendresse, who is in his fourth year in the NHL, has scored 48 goals and 37 assists in 232 games, he is also a career minus-22. Those are demonstrably better stats than Pouliot's, who has never scored more than nine goals in a season.

True, there are others in the Habs lineup who have one goal, or none, but they weren't built up as natural-born scorers (let's face it: it was over for Tender the moment he scored two in his first exhibition game as an 18-year-old.) The final stats look like this: Latendresse has averaged 11:21 in ice time this season, and just over a minute of power-play time per game. That's eighth among Habs forwards.

Last season, during which he scored 14 goals, Latendresse averaged 13:36 per game and had precisely four points in 84:56 of power-play time.

And the previous year, when he had 16, Latendresse had precisely four points in 104:02 on the league's best PP unit (he averaged 12:15 per game, or one shift more than this year).

So to recap, 85 points in 232 games, eight on the power-play in the last two-and-a-quarter seasons.

Yes, his ice time dwindled this season, but sorry, those aren't the kinds of numbers that earn a guy regular top-six time.

Contrary to the consensus opinion, Gui had his chance in Montreal, may he seize the new one presented to him in Minneapolis.

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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