McKenzie: Compelling, crazy drama of Cammalleri trade

Bob McKenzie
1/13/2012 4:53:41 PM
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I know we are supposed to make instantaneous judgments on winners and losers in big NHL trades, and the Mike Cammalleri-Rene Bourque/Calgary-Montreal transaction certainly qualifies as a big deal.

At first blush, not a lot of people seem to like it from the Canadiens' end because, well, Cammalleri has a degree of star power that Rene Bourque will never have. That was certainly my first reaction.

And let's be honest, the way things have gone in Montreal this season, GM Pierre Gauthier isn't going to win any popularity contests either, which may cloud the judgmental equation more than a little.

And, hey, Cammalleri's 13 goals in 19 playoff games two years ago is still relatively fresh in our minds and Flames' fans will no doubt recall Cammalleri's NHL career high of 39 goals for Calgary in 2008-09. Suffice to say that the diminutive Cammalleri has a "potential" offensive ceiling Bourque will have difficult rivalling.

It's also difficult to separate the nuts and bolts of this transaction from the soap opera of the last 48 hours in Montreal, with Cammalleri sounding off one day and get traded DURING the Habs' game in Boston the next night.

Compelling stuff. Pretty crazy, too.

But it's always a good idea to try to separate the emotion and drama when doing analysis. Or at least make the effort.

And, therefore, some may be surprised to learn that Bourque's goal totals compare quite favorably to Cammalleri's.

In 38 games this season, Cammalleri has nine goals. In the same number of games, Bourque has 13 goals.

In two-plus seasons as a Canadien, Cammalleri has 54 goals in 169 regular season games. A goal-per-game average of .32.

In the exact same time period with the Flames, Bourque has 67 goals in 191 games. That's 13 more goals in 22 more games, or a goal-per-game average of .35, .03 better than Cammalleri.

Okay, but let's factor in Cammalleri's 39-goal zenith in 08-09. He is, after all, returning to the scene of the crime. In his last three-plus seasons, Cammalleri has 93 goals in 250 games for GPG average of .37. Not too shabby.

But Bourque's numbers in that time are still pretty good, too. He has 88 goals in 249 games, for a GPG average of .35. Or more simply put, in one extra game in that time, Cammalleri has just five more goals than Bourque.

As for recent playoffs, it's no contest. Cammalleri had 13 two seasons ago and three against Boston in the first round last year. Bourque hasn't been in the playoffs since Cammalleri was a Calgary teammate in 08-09.

The regular season numbers are surprising, though. Shocking actually. To me, anyway. Mostly because Bourque, who incidentally is a half year older than Cammalleri, has a league-wide reputation for being an enigmatic underachiever who runs really hot and really cold. If you caught analyst Kelly Hrudey on Hockey Night in Canada earlier this season, he absolutely savaged Bourque with pointed criticism that suggested in no uncertain terms Bourque's "give a damn meter" was broken. Hrudey doesn't often rip players to shreds but he did that night with Bourque. And there are few who would argue with Hrudey's assessment at the time. 

Yet Bourque's  goal output has been remarkably consistent. Back-to-back 27-goal seasons and right on course for that range this season. Those are really quite good numbers for an enigmatic in-and-outer.

Bourque, of course, is bigger and, when so moved, much more physical than Cammalleri (Bourque is currently serving his five-game suspension for elbowing Washington's Nicklas Backstrom). And Montreal could certainly use some size and edge.

Bourque also makes less money, about $3 million per year less, than Cammalleri.

So someone needs to ask the question: Is it conceivable Gauthier has replaced Cammalleri's goals in the Canadiens' lineup, got bigger and tougher and done so while freeing up an additional $3 million in cap space, giving the Habs the equivalent of more than $8 million worth of cap room (according to Capgeek) at the deadline?

Gauthier also got a second-round draft pick (which is not insignificant) and a decent prospect in WHL forward Patrick Holland while giving up a fifth-round pick and Finnish goalie Karri Ramo, who is currently playing in the KHL.

Amateur scouts I talked to said Holland is by no means a can't-miss prospect. None suggested he's a potential top six NHL forward but many said he does have a legitimate chance to play in the NHL as a solid third- or fourth-liner. It's hard to know if Ramo, a former Tampa Bay prospect, will ever be a factor in the NHL, but some believe he has No. 1 potential and may one day be the heir apparent to Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary.

Pretty much everyone, it seems, is looking at this transaction through the Montreal prism and given how the NHL season has gone for the Habs and the dramatic developments of the last 48 hours, that's understandable.

But it's worth considering the Flames' angle on this.

Calgary GM Jay Feaster has been loathe to give up draft picks and/or prospects for immediate help now because he knows all too well Calgary's cupboard isn't exactly full of either. Until now, anyway.

He made an exception this time because he's getting a player he feels can be a dynamic difference maker, though it has to be said Cammalleri has been an enigmatic underachiever himself after his great playoff run of 2010.

Feaster has never suggested he's embracing a full rebuild/youth movement of Edmonton Oiler proportions but it is fair to ask whether it's wise to be giving up a significant draft pick and decent prospect for a soon-to-be thirtysomething scorer who's on hard times and bumping up the payroll by $3 million in the process.

It's a move that is not without risk for the Flames. Is it a shrewd investment or a return to a high-ratio mortgaging of the Flames' future? I suppose that depends on Cammalleri, how much he scores off the hop and whether his addition can push Calgary to the front of the seven-team bubble group competing for the final three playoff spots in the Western Conference.

Cammalleri's playoff track record and game-breaking ability is not to be overlooked but if Calgary doesn't make the playoffs and/or Cammalleri's offensive woes continue... well, you get the picture.

At the very least, the jury is out on this move from Calgary's end and it should be at least as interesting a discussion/debate in Cowtown as it is in Montreal.

Don't get the wrong impression here. I am not endorsing Gauthier's efforts in Montreal this season. There's an unseemly quality to the events there this year.

Firing assistant coach Perry Pearn hours before a game. Firing head coach Jacques Martin before a game-day skate. Trading Cammalleri during a game, 24 hours after the player spouted off, and then saying it's a deal that has been in the works since early December. Which may be true but Cammalleri's outburst clearly triggered the deal being done.

And I can tell you there are a number of NHL GMs who had no idea Montreal was prepared to trade Cammalleri. This was not a player who was shopped around the league. Could Gauthier have gotten more elsewhere or driven up the price? Maybe, but it's conceivable he didn't want anybody else and only had eyes for Bourque. Fine, because that's how he'll be judged and judged he will be.

For what it's worth, I think Gauthier's firing of Martin's was an act of pure desperation and ill-conceived from the get-go. I have no problem with Randy Cunneyworth getting an opportunity to coach -- he's worked hard and deserves the chance on merit -- but the most qualified man (based on experience and expertise) in the Montreal organization to turn around the Canadiens this season was clearly Martin.

If the Habs' downward spiral continues this season, I could easily see Gauthier being fired at season's end and not too many Canadien fans would shed a tear at that.

I have to admit,  I seriously misjudged the Canadiens this season. At a time when most said they were on the verge of a precipitous decline, which has fully materialized, I really thought they could have been a lot better than expected. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

So there's a part of me -- the rush to judgment/first blush part we all possess -- that really wants to dislike this Cammalleri-Bourque deal for the Canadiens, signalling perhaps the end of the Canadiens' speed-skill era that was so enjoyable to watch in back-to-back playoff years.

But then I look at the cold, hard numbers of it all -- the goals, the dollars, the future considerations -- and I wonder if I'm maybe missing the mark yet again?

We'll find out soon enough, I suppose, but in the meantime, I would suggest there should be a whole lot of people in Montreal AND Calgary who are going to be under the intense glare of the spotlight on this deal.

Now let's see who steps up.

Bob McKenzie


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