BROSSARD, Que. – Trading sniper Michael Cammalleri may have been yet another round of shock therapy for the Montreal Canadiens.
It remains to be seen if the move will jolt them into winning some games.
“You hope so, or it won’t be the last of the changes,” forward Mathieu Darche said Friday. “If it doesn’t get better, there will be more players going.
“So if guys don’t want to leave this place, we’d better start winning.”
The trade that sent Cammalleri to Calgary for Rene Bourque was the latest, and strangest, in a string of desperate-looking moves general manager Pierre Gauthier has pulled off this season as the Canadiens slide towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
After the second period of what would turn out to be a 2-1 loss in Boston on Thursday night, Cammalleri was put in a taxi back to the team hotel after being told that he had been traded. Montreal trailed 1-0 at the time and were playing a strong game.
It was later announced that Cammalleri, goaltending prospect Karri Ramo and a 2012 fifth-round draft pick had been sent to the Flames for Bourque, prospect Patrick Holland and a 2013 second-round pick.
“The trade happened after the second period so that was interesting. I understood why it took place,” said Cammalleri after arriving in Calgary. “The team that acquired you doesn’t want to risk injury so why not pull you out.
“Then I found out it was Calgary. It was a real thrill to find out I was a Flame again.”
Cammalleri played for the Flames in the 2008-09 season, scoring a career-best 39 goals and adding 43 assists.
In October, Gautheir another pulled a shocker when he fired assistant coach Perry Pearn shortly before a game. The move had the desired affect as the team went on a winning run after a 1-5-2 start to the season.
A deal in December for defenceman Tomas Kaberle, who Carolina was delighted to part with, worked for two games but then the power play it was supposed to help starting slipping to its current 29th in the 30-team league.
That was followed shortly after by the firing of head coach Jacques Martin and the public relations catastrophe that ensued when Randy Cunneyworth was named the team’s first non-French speaking coach in four decades.
It also didn’t spark a winning streak. The Canadiens are 3-8-0 since Martin left.
Now the team has traded a prominent player in Cammalleri, who has been mired in a scoring slump and has only nine goals in 38 games this season.
“People thought something like (a trade) would happen, but no one expected Jacques to get fired, so it’s hard to compare the two,” said forward Max Pacioretty. “A way it will help is that now everyone knows that no one is safe.
“Mike was a big part of this team’s future. They paid him a lot of money and he had a record-like playoff run once. It shows that no one’s untouchable. I think it makes people dig a little deeper and find out how they have to play in order to stay.”
It actually is not a terrible trade, not only because at US$3.3 million per season (through 2014-15), Bourque earned $2.7 million less per annum than Cammalleri. According to capgeek.com, it leaves the Canadiens $8.2 million in cap space ahead of the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
Bourque has been criticized for up-and-down performances, but he has 67 goals over the last three seasons compared to 54 for Cammalleri.
Cammalleri, who signed a $30 million, five-year free agent deal with Montreal after the 2008-09 season in Calgary, has been a huge playoff performer, however. He had 13 goals in Montreal’s run to the conference final two seasons ago and had 10 points in seven games against Boston in the first round last spring.
But what Gauthier wanted was size. Bourque is six-foot-two and can play a physical game, while Cammalleri is five-foot-nine.
After management insisted size doesn’t matter in recent seasons, the deal suggests the quick transition and puck moving game the Canadiens were known for, and which has ground to a halt this season, will now be dropped in favour of a forechecking game.
“It doesn’t hurt when we’re trying to address our forecheck and maybe intimidate teams more, play a little more like Boston does, to tell the truth,” said Pacioretty. “So I think it’s going to help us out a lot having a bigger guy up front.
“We do have a lot of small guys. That’s no secret. But any time you can add a big guy like that it’s beneficial.”
Bourque was due to arrive in Montreal late Friday. He will miss a game Saturday against Ottawato finish off a five-game suspension for elbowing Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom in the jaw and will likely see his first action Sunday night against the New York Rangers.
Trading a player during a game is highly unusual, and if something like that is done, it’s usually near the trade deadline by a team that has given up on the season and is discarding expensive veterans.
But Gauthier, who has at times given the impression he has come unhinged, insisted the deal was in the works for weeks and had nothing to do with a controversy swirling around how some comments Cammalleri made about a “losing mentality” on the team were interpreted in the media.
“With the comments made by Cammalleri and the whole media circus, it was a weird feeling, but this is a soul-searching time,” added Pacioretty. “We’ll have to see what kind of character we have in the room now to overcome this and put together a couple of wins and get a streak going.”
Cammalleri explained what he said to reporters to his teammates.
Cunneyworth, who was happy to gain an bigger forward in Bourque, said he wasn’t put off by what Cammalleri may have said.
“Everyone has a different way of expressing themselves,” he said. “I don’t have a problem.
“I’ll also add as the coach, it was a little bit overblown. Hopefully he’s going to a place where he’ll play a better brand of hockey, in his mind. We don’t wish any ill-will.”
Notes: Habs forward Scott Gomez may get clearance from team doctors to return from injury to face Ottawa. If not a player will be called up from AHL Hamilton. … Carey Price will start in goal.