CALGARY – It was eerily silent at the home of the Calgary Flames as the trade deadline approached.
When Brian Burke finally made his move Wednesday it wasn’t the deal anyone expected.
Just prior to the deadline, the Flames president of hockey operations pulled the trigger on a pair of deals, shipping out right-winger Lee Stempniak and goaltender Reto Berra in exchange for draft picks that may help his rebuilding hockey club down the road.
With Calgary all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, Burke entered the trade deadline looking to acquire assets for the future. What he had to offer up were five players on the Flames roster on expiring contracts.
Easily the biggest news was that the most notable name on the list, two-time 30-goal scorer Mike Cammalleri, did not end up getting moved.
“Nothing materialized that made sense for us,” said Burke, who has been acting as the Flames interim general manager since Dec. 12 when Jay Feaster was let go.
He said one of the obstacles that proved insurmountable was how late other offensive-oriented forwards Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson ended up being dealt. Burke said that kept a lot of teams out of the bidding process. With Cammalleri in the final year of a deal that carries a US$6-million cap hit, Burke said other team’s salary cap limitations were also an issue that prevented teams from being able to acquire him.
“I’m sure Mike’s disappointed, not to be a Calgary Flame because he loves it here, but to not go somewhere and get some playoff hockey in. I think everyone needs a couple days to sit down and have a cold drink and settle down a little bit,” said Burke.
“He’s a quality person and a quality player and I’d rather take a chance on keeping him here and signing him than giving him away in a terrible deal.”
Berra, 27, in his first year in the NHL after coming over from Switzerland, was traded to the Colorado Avalanche for a second-round pick in 2014.
On the surface, it seems like a pretty hefty return for a goalie that has had an up and down season and just one regulation win. The other eight victories for Berra, who is 9-17-2, have all come in overtime or in the shootout, where he’s been especially effective going 4-0.
Of the 41 goaltenders with enough minutes to qualify, Berra’s .897 save percentage ranks him 39th while his 2.95 goals-against average ranks 36th.
“Colorado came after Reto Berra. We would not have done it for a lower pick than that pick,” said Burke. “This is a guy that made significant progress here in my mind. I thought that price tag demanded that we make the deal, especially with the emergence of (Joni) Ortio.”
Berra, who was acquired by Calgary at last year’s trade deadline as part of the return for defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, was looking forward to the change.
“I’m really excited to go to Colorado. Great team and probably a great city and great hockey town too, and a really famous coach (former NHL goaltender Patrick Roy). When I was a child in Switzerland, he was probably the biggest. I’m excited and happy,” said Berra.
In Pittsburgh, Stempniak—who’s wife just gave birth to twin girls—will get a chance to be closer to his family, who are in Boston. In his ninth NHL season, he will also get a chance to play in the post-season for just the third time in his career.
“I’m really excited to be going to Pittsburgh,” said Stempniak, 31. “When you look at the teams in the league, that’s a team that ranks right up there. They’ve got some unbelievable players and they’re having a great season. From my end, I’m just looking to go in there and help out anyway I can.”
Stempniak had eight goals and 15 assists in 58 games. However, he’s cooled off after a hot start in which half of his goals came in the first 10 games. While his offence has cooled off, Stempniak has been dependable defensively including a league-leading five short-handed points (two goals, three assists).
“Really looking forward to it. A team that’s poised for a good playoff run, you can’t help but be excited to join that,” Stempniak said.
Burke said he feels Stempniak will fit in well with the Penguins.
“Stempniak is a really good hockey player. If he was 10 pounds heavier, he’d be a dynamite hockey player,” Burke said. “His deficiencies aren’t from hockey skill, they’re not from hockey IQ, they’re not from effort, they’re from physical limitations. I think he can help Pittsburgh.”