Photo: Patrick McDermott
On Monday afternoon, checking-line forward Michael Latta was not tendered a qualifying offer, ending his tenure in Washington. Lats will become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“We struggled with that one,” Barry Trotz said to Elliot in the Morning the next day. “He’s been a really good soldier for us. We felt with where the game is going, in terms of our team, with four centermen, Lats is best playing in the middle and right now we don’t really have a place for him. And plus we have a couple centerman, Travis Boyd and Chandler Stephenson, who have really stepped up from the minors. Their skill sets are a little different. They’re more about speed and skill. And Lats is more about the physicality and the grind.”
“We wanted to give him an opportunity somewhere else,” Trotz continued. “Lats has been exceptional as a teammate. A lot of his teammates are sorry to see him leave. But I’m hoping the best for Lats. He’s a terrific guy. He’s a guy’s guy and a great teammate.”
On Tuesday night, I spoke to Latta and he opened up about the team’s decision to not bring him back. He also discussed his time in Washington – a time he will remember fondly – and also spoke seriously about his close friendship with Tom Wilson.
He also had some very sweet words for Caps fans.
How are you doing right now? Where are you mentally about everything?
Michael Latta: You know, it’s tough. It’s been bad. Obviously, I love DC and I love the guys there, but personally for my career I think it’s probably best if I move on and maybe go somewhere and get more of a chance, get more of an opportunity to play and establish myself. It wasn’t too fun a year last year, personally. Obviously, the team did very well and I had a blast there with all the guys, but personally it was a tough year. So hopefully I go somewhere else and get a better shot and really maybe show what I can do instead of sitting in the stands.
When did you first find out the news? I know for all of us, we kind of heard about it from Isabelle around 4:45pm [on Monday]. Was this something you heard about earlier, or did you kind of get the news with us?
Michael Latta: No, I guess, it was kind of weird for me, because they had said they were going sign me. It seemed that way, that they were gonna sign me leading up to it. I was waiting for an offer. Then I see tweets come in that all the other guys had got [offers] and I hadn’t got [an offer]. So 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock–and 4:30 rolls around, and my agent calls me, and I go, “Okay, are they gonna offer?” and then [he] said they’re not qualifying me. I don’t know it kind of came out of the blue for me. I didn’t talk to anyone from the Caps organization. My agent just told me that they were going to send me to free agency.
Why do you think things didn’t work out? A lot of people were just, like you, really confused.
Michael Latta: It’s playing on such a deep team that’s trying to win it every year, there’s not much room for development I guess, for a guy like me. You know they want the young kids, Willy and Burkie and Kuzy, they want to really develop them. Only so many guys can develop and still try and win at the same time. You know I had a great time in Washington. Obviously it didn’t work out there but I don’t know it’s just tough. I have a lot of really good friends there and stuff so it’s obviously difficult, but there’s not one thing to pinpoint that didn’t work out, you know? I never really got a shot as a penalty killer, a shot to really nail down a role.
One thing that would have cemented your role even more was just the penalty killing. It seemed like they never really gave you a shot there …
Michael Latta: Yeah, I mean that’s what I was coming in. I wanted to be on the penalty kill and I wanted to get a chance at that role with all the older guys we had and Willy jumping on the penalty kill there too I guess there wasn’t too much room to give me a shot. We had a really good penalty kill, we were top five in the league I think. So it’s hard to go in and ask for ice time when the penalty kill is being so successful. But yeah I think that’s still one of my strong points of my game. I was always a top penalty killer in juniors and in the minors. So hopefully wherever I go next I can get a chance.
I think you or Tom said that you guys were hanging out [Tuesday]. How did that go?
Michael Latta: I was getting a lot of texts last night. Tom and I work out together every day [with Biosteel]. I see him every day at the gym. I was getting texts from everyone. I wasn’t replying right away to [Tom], so he double, triple, quadruple texted me. [Laughs] I think that’s one of the best things about hockey, the relationships you build. Tom and I have obviously become very close and will probably be one of my best friends forever. I’ll take a lot of good things away from Washington, and the friendships I’ve built have been one of them.
One thing that I was thinking about too was, there is now the possibility that you and Tom could actually fight in a real game.
Michael Latta: [Laughs] Yeah. I guess so.
Would you ever drop the gloves with Tom Wilson?
Michael Latta: [Laughs] Well, I’ve fought my friends before.
One other thing that I never really asked you about was you obviously came to Washington as part of the Filip Forsberg deal. … Did that ever put more pressure on you? Was that ever something that was kind of bothersome at times for you?
Michael Latta: That didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t make the trade. [Laughs] It had nothing to do with me; I was just a part of it. You know that’s part of the business. So no, it didn’t add any pressure. I’m happy the kid’s doing well. You always want to see players do well. Little things like that don’t really bother me.
Was it interesting to kind of follow Barry too, to Washington?
Michael Latta: Yeah, I had a relationship with him before and I’ve known Trotzy since he drafted me, so yeah, it was nice to have a familiar face going to my second camp with him.
[During the season, the Capitals] ended up signing Mike Richards, who was one of your childhood heroes growing up. … They bring in a veteran that’s won the Conn Smythe like Justin Williams. But what was that like for you to play with veterans like that [including your idol]? Was it almost nerve-wracking for you at first?
Michael Latta: Nah, I wouldn’t say that. You get to the point when you’re 13-years-old, you kinda look up in awe. He’s the best player in the country and he’s playing in your city. Once you get the same state as him, same level as him, obviously I respect Richards and Justin as well and you try to really learn things from them and pick up little things. Richie and I became pretty close over the year and he’s a great guy and a great teammate, but that was kind of cool to just do that. It’s just funny how hockey works out like that you know 10 years down the road we’re teammates?
Andre Burakovsky’s Instagram photo. I have to bring that up.
Michael Latta: [Laughs] The boxing one? Yeah, that was pretty funny. He’s such a good kid and obviously Tom and I took him in as a roommate. He’s a great kid and he’s learned a lot in the past year and he’s really grown up. Kind of like a little brother and he’s another guy that I’ll be good friends with for a long time. It’s nice to see a kid like that really improve the last couple years and just grow up and form into a good young man. We still like to give him a hard time, you know, just for fun.
It looks like you guys turned him into a stone-cold killer
Michael Latta: [Laughs] Yeah, maybe from all the wresting in the apartment. He says that maybe him and Willy are going to be moving in together. He’s gonna have to toughen up.
I remember during the [Flyers series] Burakovsky grabbed Radko Gudas from behind and he had malice in his eyes. What have you done to that poor kid?
Michael Latta: I had two brothers growing up. When you’re the smallest kid, the youngest kid, you’ve gotta toughen up pretty quick. Burkie’s not going to be scoring many goals. We’re just gonna turn him into a fighter.
How did guys end up rooming together? Was it Tom’s prior relationship with him in Development Camp?
Michael Latta: We always knew him. He was always in the hotel because he was kind of up and down that first year, Hershey and stuff, and he hadn’t been told to get a place yet. So by the time he got told to get a place, it was pretty late in the year, only four months left in the season or something like that, so hard to get a lease like that. We figured he’d be better off living with us. … We just took him under our wing. Burkie, he’s always a hoot to have around. He’s constantly going and chirping us and stuff, it was a really good dynamic. Tom is boring sometimes, it just adds to the mix of it.
It’s hard for me to believe that he’s boring.
Michael Latta: Yeah, I’m just kidding. He’s definitely not. I definitely felt like an older brother. Those two are just going at it constantly. Burkie is always trying to poke the bear with Tom. It’s pretty funny.
What is the craziest thing that happened in your apartment?
Michael Latta: Oh, I don’t know. I think the funniest part was probably when Tom and I got really, really, really close when we first started living together, we didn’t have cable for like a month. I don’t know what the reason was, we couldn’t get a guy in or we just were lazy or on the road or something. So Tom and I played ping pong for two hours a night. We’d make dinner and then have these epic games of ping pong that lasted two hours where one guy would win like a best of 13 series and it would be like 5-5 or 6-6 and one guy would win and the guy that would lose would say “one more game, one more game.” That was a pretty fun experience we had. It was kinda nice not having TV, sitting on the couch, really giving it a run on the ping pong table.
That kind of reminds me of college whenI would play Madden against my friends and I’d get like so f&*#ing into it that if I lost or if I threw an interception at the end, I would like chuck my controller against the wall and be like WTH.
Michael Latta: Yeah, exactly. It got pretty heated too. Tom and I are both competitors, but at the end of the day, it was a lot of fun, but with guys that hate to lose so much it got pretty heated, so that was a blast. And then Burkie came into the mix and he’s got that Swedish touch at the ping pong table. It was pretty good. I always beat Burkie and then Burkie would beat Tom and Tom beat me. It was a nice triangle we had going so no one was really the best, it was a lot of fun.
I’m gonna need to ask you a follow up question on that. What is the Swedish touch?
Michael Latta: Oh, you know, he’s just skilled, you know Tom’s all power, just trying to smash the ball as hard as he can. Burkie doing all the spins and I just play straight defense and let them make the mistakes.
So like when Andre moved out was that just because he was sick of you guys or what happened there?
Michael Latta: I think at one point they wanted him to live on his own, to kinda grow up, take a step forward as a man, learn how to do his own bills, cook his own food and stuff. So I think that was kind of it. He has his, one thing too, his parents come over, his dad comes over quite a bit to check on him and be with him and stuff. It’s not like Tom and I’s family where they’re an hour flight away. His dad would come over for maybe a few weeks at a time, so just for him to have an extra room there his dad could stay in to save a lot of money, makes for his dad not to be stuck in a hotel the whole time.
For whatever reason, a lot of people read us, and a lot of times we get a good kind of look at who is really popular among players. So this year when we wrote about you or Tom or whatever your escapades were, we were noticing that you guys were routinely getting more hits than anything we did on Alex Ovechkin.
Michael Latta: We’re more fun I guess [laughs] I don’t know. There’s enough news about him.
… One thing I wanted to ask was do you have anything to say to the Caps fans that have been with you the last few years, I know that you’ve gotten like ketchup cookies, I see your Instagram page, people are all over it every minute of the day. The #CapsRoomies thing blew up, you guys are selling shirts out the wahoo. Do you have anything to say to them, because I know this was a really special bond and anything that I can do to bring that message across is what I want to do.
Michael Latta: Yeah, definitely. For a guy who doesn’t score the most goals or get the most ice-time, the fans in Washington were so good to me. It was pretty cool to be so well-liked I guess, not to be cocky. Just having such a good relationship with the fans, we had a lot of fun with it, maybe some guys with families, they don’t have as much time to goof around and stuff, but for Tom and I and Andre, we had a lot of fun with it and mixing it up with the fans and kind of getting to know them a little bit. We had fans that we got to know pretty well over the years and it’s cool to have a relationship with them, kinda get to know who your supporters are. That was pretty special. The fans always had my back. Every time I wasn’t playing, I would get about ten tweets “#FreeLatta” and stuff like that. It was pretty funny. Obviously, Trotzy is not reading that, but it kinda makes you feel a little better. It was big, this year especially when I wasn’t playing too much.
What was the one thing, maybe a fan did for you that you really remember, that really was meaningful for you?
Michael Latta: We used to get gift baskets like crazy, cookies and treats, all sorts of stuff. I think we made a comment like we can’t eat bad food so the next they’d show up with like gluten free, nut free, butter free, everything free cookies. So it was pretty good. The Caps fans were definitely really good to me.
When I was growing up, I was the only kid who wore a Caps jersey to my school during the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. But over the last 10-15 years, because of Ovechkin, because of what Bruce Boudreau did, because of what Trotz has done, the team has become so popular. It’s just insane what little things people do for guys now. Really it blows my mind.
Michael Latta: That was one of the things coming from Nashville, I had no idea about the fanbase in Washington and the same thing when my parents come down, my friends come down, anyone that comes down and watches a game, they’re kind of mind-blown. People don’t realize how loud and how good our fans are in Washington. That was one thing that was really cool to me to see that because DC is not the most traditional hockey city, but to see how loud and how good the fans are was pretty cool.
What do you think the best role would be for you on teams that might be considering you? I know that Beags talked about last year before he re-signed that the 3-center spot was kind of his dream, which is really sweet in a way, that you know the expectations are really good there. What would you hope a team looks for in you?
Michael Latta: I’m an emotional player, so when I’m playing, I understand we have a really deep team in Washington, but when I’m only playing six minutes a night and kind of sitting on the bench not getting really into a game, it kind of takes away my emotions. When I play with emotion, that’s when I’m playing at my best. Just a team that’s going to give me an opportunity and a chance to play and prove that I can play, put up offense, be more than just a guy that likes to mix it up and drop the gloves. I truly believe that I can be that, I just feel like I need an opportunity to show what I got. So hopefully it works out that I can sign somewhere else and play the Caps in the Finals.
That would be great and painful for Caps fans. Just like the idea of if you guys had got past the Penguins of playing either the Sharks or the Blues with Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer.
Michael Latta: [Laughs] Yeah, that would have been quite the story.
That’s really the worst part of hockey, that sometimes you have to pick favorites. A lot of the guys that have come through town the last 5-10 years have just been great dudes like Wardo and Brouwer.
Michael Latta: I think that’s one of the best things they do in Washington, they do their research on quality people. The last two years, there was not one teammate that I disliked or was a dick or who didn’t really fit in with the team. It goes a long way when you’re trying to build a championship contender.
Since you’re so close to him, what kind of role do you think Tom can grow into? He played mostly on the third line last year. There was a scoring touch when he was in the OHL. What are his expectations? What do you think he can grow into, just seeing him everyday?
Michael Latta: I thought Tom was really good on the third line. I think we were playing our best hockey when that line was together, we were well-balanced, I don’t think we lost too many games there. I think that’s when he was on that line, we were on a real streak. The thing is, with Tom, whatever line he’s on, whatever line he’s playing against doesn’t want to play against him. So, if he’s playing on the first line and he’s matching up against their first line, maybe he’s not putting up points, but the other centerman, the top players, they’re second guessing themselves a lot too. I think that’s one thing you have to look at when you see Tom. He might not put up a million points, but he definitely equalizes the field and with the depth on Washington, I think that probably works to our advantage. Well not ‘ours’, ‘used to be ours’, Washington’s advantage.
Did it seem like officials were paying way more attention to [Tom], because I remember his penalty differential, basically the penalties he generated and the penalties he took two seasons ago, I think he was one of the best in the league and this year he was in the negative and it didn’t really seem like much changed on his end.
Michael Latta: Yeah, anytime you play as aggressive as Willy, sometimes you’re getting calls, sometimes not. I did think at one point the refs were kind of picking on him a bit. It’s tough, I’ve been there before, once you get that reputation, it’s like any line of work, if you kind of have the reputation of starting stuff and doing stuff, you’re never going to get the benefit of the doubt. I think Willy is really mature about it, he doesn’t go after the refs too hard and he kind of tries to calm down and explain it, but for a young kid to have that poise and not lose his mind, really talk through it, I think that helped out a bit and he definitely dialed back what he says to the refs.
Do you think that, you have a big body too, do you think that if guys are bigger, even if they’re hitting harder, officials because the game is so fast now, officials are just more mindful of things like that. I know there’s a lot of times where Tom can light up a guy, maybe when he’s coming around the net certain times, I see him hold up an awful lot. Is that kind of one of the things as enforcers and guys who try to create energy for their team, where you have to be really careful about that stuff? Even if it’s going to be 100% clean, if you injure a guy, you never know how the call is going to go?
Michael Latta: Yeah, definitely that’s a thing. Say what you want, people have different opinions. You’re not trying to go out there and hurt guys and be vicious. You try and wear them down, put a good licking on them, but you’re not trying to end guys’ careers or take away from their earnings or their career you know. So there’s times where you have to step into a guy, with the way the NHL is going the bigger the collision, the more likely you’re going to get the call, whether it’s clean or not. So you gotta be kind of mindful of that, whether it’s clean or not, most of the time your team is still going to be down.
I feel like I should ask you about ketchup, but I’m not exactly sure what.
Michael Latta: Yeah, obviously it was a joke that kind of spiraled out of control. There was so much ketchup in our fridge, because we really didn’t use it that much. It was pretty funny when we bought it and we figured we’d use it a lot more than we did, but we never actually ended up using it that much so that’s why there was so much ketchup there. It was a good joke, we had a lot of fun with it.
That joke had remarkable staying power.
Michael Latta: Yeah, it was amazing, we still get it, still getting a bunch of tweets about ketchup when I was leaving.
Well, I really, really, really appreciate your time. And obviously it’s not just me, I think there’s thousands of people who are going to be rooting for you wherever you end up next. I think we all know that you’re going to have success and not just for a year, I think that you’re going to be in the league a long time. Again, I’m so appreciative for your time.
Michael Latta: Yeah, no problem, I appreciate you guys, all the nice things you’ve said about me over the years.
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