Something in Michael Cammalleri’s comments about the Canadiens being “losers” may or may not have been lost in translation, but the team could not have been more clear and unequivocal than it was by trading him 24 hours after they came out.
Which leads us to believe that either (a) a deal involving Cammalleri has been in the works for a time, or (b) this is the quickest and most dramatic rift between a player and management with the Canadiens since Patrick Roy was traded in 1995. Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier insisted a deal has been in the works for months, but the timing is curious, no?
One source said Cammalleri had met with Gauthier earlier in the day and expressed a desire to go back to Calgary, where he had the best offensive season of his career prior to signing with the Canadiens as an unrestricted free agent in 2009. If that’s the case, it certainly didn’t take long for the two sides to cook up a deal, with Cammalleri, journeyman goaltender Karri Ramo and a fifth round pick in 2012 going to the Flames for Rene Bourque, prospect Patrick Holland and a second-rounder in 2013.
On the surface, it looks like a deal involving two wingers who have the potential to score 30 goals a season, but both of whom are performing at sub-par levels. And if all the reports are true, both were butting heads with their coaches. Things had become so frustrating for Cammalleri that he sounded off after practice Wednesday and was quoted as saying, among other things, “We prepare for games like losers. We play like losers. So it’s no wonder why we lose.”
It appears Cammalleri’s use of the word “losers” might not have been accurately quoted after being translated into French and back to English. But it’s clear those comments did not sit well with the Canadiens, who have had to deal with one disaster after another and managed somehow to create yet another one by informing Cammalleri he had been traded in the middle of a game.
The Canadiens, who have prided themselves on doing everything the right way, have long been considered the classiest organization in the NHL, if not all professional sports. But their behavior this season, starting with new owner Geoff Molson on down, gives one the impression they’re trying to become the newest expansion team in the Federal League.
If you’re judging which team got the best player in the deal, you’d probably have to tip your cap to the Flames, who pick up a player who will be motivated to redeem himself in a city and with an organization he loved in his one season there. Truth be told, aside from his brilliant play in the Canadiens run to the 2010 Eastern Conference final – and it was something to behold – Cammalleri accomplished almost nothing in Montreal. He was often hurt and when he wasn’t injured, he endured long spells of lacking productivity, so much so that there are those who think Jacques Martin’s insistence on playing Cammalleri and some of the other veterans so much might have cost him his coaching job.
The Canadiens will save short term as far as the salary cap hit goes. Cammalleri has the rest of this season and two more on a contract that pays him $6 million a season, while the Canadiens are on the hook to Bourque for the remainder of this season and another four at a cap hit of $3.33 million. Both players have a penchant for producing in spurts and have dealt with various injuries and with only six months between them – Bourque is older – are at about the same stages of their careers.
Calgary’s game against the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night was the fourth of Bourque’s five-game suspension for elbowing Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals in the head, meaning he’ll miss the Canadiens game Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators before making his way into the lineup. His physical game is much more robust than Cammalleri’s and he’s more of a two-way player.
Cammalleri and Jarome Iginla between Olli Jokinen on the Flames first line could certainly be a lethal combination if coach Brent Sutter chooses to play the three of them together. If not, you can be sure Cammalleri and Iginla will see lots of time together on the power play. If Cammalleri finds his form in Calgary, the Flames almost certainly win the trade, but that is a form that has been absent for some time now. And depending upon which scouts you speak to, Holland may or may not be a key factor in this deal. The Flames picked the right winger in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, but he has apparently filled out since then and has 17 goals and 57 points in 40 games for the Tri-City Americans of the Western League this season. He is in his last year of junior eligibility and turned 20 six days ago.
“Let’s put it this way: If I were making a trade with the Calgary Flames I would insist on (Holland) being part of the deal,” said an executive from another team. “Is it a gamble? Sure it’s a gamble. But this guy is a good player. He’s an enigma, but he has grown into his body and he can do things now that he couldn’t do two years ago.”
Another scout said Holland projects out to be a third-line player in the NHL at best, “and certainly not a slam-dunk. He’s more a prospect thrown into the deal than a key part of it.”
Reviews are mixed on Holland, but that hardly makes him an outcast in this deal. Like so many deals that happen in the NHL today, it involves two players who are struggling and whose new teams hope they can find their games in a fresh situation. And like so many deals in the NHL today, it is filled with tons of uncertainty.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.