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Cammalleri for Jokinen: a smart trade for both teams

Cammalleri and Jokinen were both deployed in manners that didn't maximize their strengths. On their new teams, they should be better fits.

Well, would you look at that. A real, old-school hockey trade, player for player, change of scenery for change of scenery, selling low for selling lower. It’s the kind of trade we used to see in, say, 1989, but it’s pretty rare in today’s NHL. So it was fun when the news dropped Tuesday night that the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers swapped forwards. To Edmonton: Mike Cammalleri, 35, who can play right or left wing. To Los Angeles: Jussi Jokinen, 34, who can play all three forward positions. Cammalleri carries a $1-million cap hit on a one-year deal and Jokinen a $1.1-million cap hit on a one-year pact of his own, so the money transfer was negligible.

Something about a 1-for-1 trade always arouses suspicion, doesn’t it? It implies both sides see more value in the piece they're getting than the piece they’re shipping out, since there are no other pieces included to balance out the transaction. That means most 1-for-1s end up with a clear winner and a clear loser – unless each player involved brings something very different to his new team than the other player did.

So why did this trade happen? And what will each player bring to his new team?

In Cammalleri, the Oilers get a guy who probably has more goals left in his stick than Jokinen did. It’s a virtual certainty Cammalleri misses time with an injury at some point this season, as he hasn’t topped 67 games since 2008-09, but he’s still a decent goal scorer when he’s in the lineup, a consistently high-percentage shooter with a nice release. Per, if we take a sample of every player with at least 1,000 even-strength minutes played over the past three seasons combined, we get 560 players, and Cammalleri ranks 124th among that group in goals per 60 minutes. He still has adequate offensive ability.

His most common centers over the past three seasons: Trevor Lewis and Travis Zajac. Not exactly Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. So there’s at least a possibility Cammalleri experiences a spike in productivity in Edmonton depending on where he’s deployed. His ability to play either wing makes him an intriguing piece for coach Todd McLellan to move around the lineup. Odds are, Cammalleri will start on the third line with center Ryan Strome, and that already puts Cammalleri in a higher-upside offensive situation than Los Angeles offered. If the Oilers continue struggling to score goals – last night’s eight-goal outbreak aside – Cammalleri could get a try with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the second line or even, gulp, Connor McDavid on the first. Cammalleri isn’t the game breaker he once was, but he’s a proven finisher. He could get a taste of power play work, too. He’s a not an all-around upgrade over Jussi Jokinen, but Cammalleri is a better offensive player right now, so the deal makes sense for Edmonton.

What about the Kings’ acquisition of Jokinen? Well, he’s a better defensive forward than Cammalleri, who was somewhat of a square peg in a round hole playing on a checking line in L.A. Among the 356 forwards who have logged at least 1,000 minutes at even strength over the past three seasons, Jokinen ranks an impressive 23rd. He’s also 23rd in that same group in Corsi For percentage relative to his teammates. Jokinen has graded out as an excellent two-way forward and possession player in the veteran stage of his career. He’s also utterly snake bitten this season, with zero goals on 22 shots. His puck luck will regress to the mean soon. Coach John Stevens has also opened up the Kings’ offense this year, leading to fascinating scoresheet resurgences for veterans Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. So maybe the Kings’ new bench boss works similar magic with Jokinen.

Not that the Kings really need Jokinen to fill the net. That’s not what they got him for. He’s simply a better fit for their third line. At a distance, Jokinen and Cammalleri may seem like similar players, but they really aren’t. That’s why this 1-for-1 makes plenty of sense. Each team punts on a failed experiment and, in return, receives a player better suited to team needs. Good on GMs Peter Chiarelli and Rob Blake.



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