Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Latendresse will test free agency; Crosby's deal affects Parise

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild off-season news Updated: June 28, 2012 - 12:42 PM

After two injury plagued seasons in a row, Guillaume Latendresse's Wild career has come to an end. He will test free agency Sunday, the 25-year-old left wing said this morning. GM Chuck Fletcher says Latendresse advised him yesterday.

I talked to Latendresse earlier this morning and he said that he has decided he would like to be closer to his 4-year-old son, Hayden, who lives with his mother in Montreal.

"I’ve been here with my son in Montreal for two months. He’s four years old now," Latendresse said. "It’s pretty hard for me during the wintertime, so I think it would be best if I can try and land somewhere that would be closer to him."

The Wild offered Latendresse a one-year contract with performance bonuses, sources say. The bonuses are permissible under the collective bargaining agreement for players who have 400 pro games (played or missed) that spent 100 days on injured reserve in the final year of his contract.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to go back," Latendresse said. "It’s not that the contract was not good. It’s not that I didn’t like the way the team was working or anything. It’s really a personal matter more than anything. I would have loved to go back to Minnesota, but sometimes you have to make decisions for your family and for your future.

“And I think my son would be better if he could be closer to me.”

Essentially, what Latendresse is saying is he wants to sign anywhere east of Minnesota and most likely in the north part of the country or Eastern Canada.

The Canadiens drafted Latendresse. It is his hometown team. They have a new coach (Michel Therrien) and new GM (Marc Bergevin) from when the Habs traded him to Minnesota for Benoit Pouliot in Nov. 2009.

I asked Latendresse if he would like to return to Montreal. It sure sounds like that's in the back of his head.

“I don’t know," he said. "We’ll see July 1 if something happens and if they’re open to take me back. But as far as now, I don’t know. I don’t close any doors. But for sure, if they want me back, it might be something interesting. But I don’t want to say yes or no because I don’t know what’s their plans, so I keep every door open.”

Except Minnesota, that is.

It became clear during the draft that something was up with negotiations. Fletcher began to indicate that this could go until July 1, and then he gave the, "If it gets done, it gets done," line Saturday after the draft, saying, "I'm not losing sleep over it."

Didn't sound good. I also never got the impression the Wild was 100 percent sold on bringing Latendresse back. Frankly, if it wanted to, theoretically all the team had to do was extend him his $2.5 million qualifying offer Monday.

But he played 27 games out of 162 the past two seasons, playing 11 two years ago due to myriad abdominal and hip issues that began in training camp after the team made very clear he showed up out of shape.

Fletcher put the gauntlet on him last offseason, demanding to Latendresse privately and publicly that he arrive in shape. The Wild sent its strength and conditioning coach periodically to Montreal to check up on him.

Latendresse shed a lot of weight and arrived in shape before getting concussed in November. He was hit face first into the glass in Calgary on Nov. 8, then left the next game Nov. 10 early in San Jose with concussion-like symptoms. He missed the next 15 games, returned in Winnipeg on Dec. 13, scored the Wild's only goal in a 2-1 loss and was lost in the first period the next night at home against Chicago when he tried to initiate two hits on one shift.

We never saw him again. 

So while bringing Latendresse back was a risk because his absences the past two years crippled the Wild's depth, losing him is also a risk. The Wild was the lowest-scoring team in the NHL last season and this is a kid that scored 25 goals in 55 games in 2009-10. Power forwards like Latendresse don't grow on trees.

It'll be interesting to see how the Wild reacts in free agency or on the trade market. It was always going to pursue Zach Parise aggressively, but is this the type of thing that makes the Wild now look for a second-line winger, too?

Does it go after Dustin Penner, who has got a similar frame to Latendresse and who has a history in Anaheim with Wild managers Fletcher and Brent Flahr? Does it pursue Peter Mueller, 24, who also has a concussion history, but is young and skilled (22 goals as a rookie in 2007-08) and wasn't tendered a qualifying offer by Colorado?  

We will see starting Sunday.

I don't see how it makes sense for them to go after guys like Alex Semin, P.A. Parenteau or Jiri Hudler.

Why? I'll explain on my live chat on startribune.com Friday at noon.

In other news, as expected, the Sidney Crosby contract extension appears to be finalized. TSN's Darren Dreger is reporting it's worth in the $100 million range at a salary cap hit below $9 million. It cannot be signed until Sunday.

Not a shock this is coming out because now a bigtime free agent like Zach Parise knows Crosby is inked long-term in Pittsburgh and Parise knows if he signs there, he will be cemented to Crosby's wing, well, forever as long as both are healthy.

What this also means?

Parise now knows his offer from Pittsburgh will be less than the $8.whatever million (my guess will be $8.7 million again, his uniform number) Crosby's taking in annually. It also tells you that if the Wild wants to figure out a way to sway Parise from signing in Pittsburgh, it'll need to come in well north of that and then pray it's sales job, and the money, talks.

The Wild's contract offer to Parise on Sunday will be, let's just say, absolutely colossal.

I may be back later if there's more news, but again, please join my live chat here at startribune.com Friday at noon.

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