Last night Jay Feaster made his first major move of the new season, dealing another former Sutter cornerstone in Rene Bourque for disgruntled Hab Mike Cammalleri. Of course, Flames fans remember the latter from the 2008-09 season when he became the first Flames skater in a decade to score more goals than Jarome Iginla (39).
That was the high water for both the player and the team ever since. The Flames haven’t made the playoffs in the two intervening years and Cammalleri’s production and stock have fallen back down to earth. The hope, I suppose, is to see if Michael can rediscover the magic here and reinvigorate the Flames post-season chances in the process.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see Cammalleri back on the team. I was thrilled when the Darryl acquired him the first time around and have always liked him as a player. He is crafty with the puck and has a very quick release. Cammalleri is an asset in the offensive zone and will likely make the Flames PP (which is still fairly abysmal) better.
Ridding the Flames of Bourque is also a boon both on and off the ice. Bourque arrived in town as a third-line, PK player who couldn’t score much but could be counted on to take relatively difficult assignments and survive. And despite being one of the Flames strongest overall forwards for the period of about two seasons, he eventually devolved into a third-line, PP player who can score but couldn’t be trusted against any quality competition whatsoever.
Make no mistake, Bourque was a liability and his contract was an albatross as a result. His goal and point totals have been decent since he stepped into the elevator shaft, but he has put up some of the worst possession and scoring chance ratios on the team. Whatever points he was accruing, he was costing the team in spades otherwise. In addition, his unfortunate penchant for taking way more penalties than he draws never went away. This year, for instance, only Corey Sarich has a worse penalty differential than Rene on the Flames.
Cammalleri isn’t a possession king himself, but he’s faced some of the toughest ice for the Canadiens this year and isn’t completely under water. He’s better at moving the puck north, better at distributing and draws way more minors than he takes. He’s also marginally younger than Bourque and his contract terminates two years earlier. The Flames got the better player in the deal.
The acquisition also means Calgary will be able to put together more than one offensively oriented line, particularly when (if?) Alex Tanguay returns. In fact, Sutter may be able to revert the Glencross/Jokinen duo back to a shut-down line and then run a couple of relatively sheltered scoring units including Backlund, Tanguay, Iginla and Cammalleri.
When the trade was announced to the Saddledome faithful last night during the game, a big cheer rose up from the crowd. That’s because, as mentioned, Flames fans remember Cammalleri as a 39-goal, 82-point player and it’s those good vibes anchoring their perception of him now.
Unfortunately, Cammalleri’s true talent level isn’t of the 35+ goals, 80+ point variety. He has broken both plateaus only twice in in his career. His 39-goal performance in Calgary was predicated on a confluence of factors that are unlikely to repeat: cherry circumstances, lots of PP time and a career high shooting percentage of 15.3%. One of the reasons he has been unable to replicate his goal totals in Montreal is his SH% regressed back to normal levels (career average = 11.4%). Keep in mind he has just nine goals and 22-points in 38 games this year (47-point pace) which is why he was available in the first place.
Unfortunately, $6 million/year ($7 million in real dollars over the next two seasons) is a lot of scratch to pay for a 25-goal, 60-point guy (at best) who doesn’t necessarily excel against other big guns. While I noted earlier that Cammalleri has been better in terms of ES play than Bourque recently the truth is he’s never been a true heavy hitter at five-on-five. This year in Montreal, for instance, his corsi rate is a mediocre -2.87/60 (-0.4 relative).
For that reason reason this trade isn’t one that will push the Flames over the top. It makes the team better, but not in any earth moving, fundamental sense. The Flames primary weakness was and remains a lack of truly elite ES forwards – guys in the Kesler, Bergeron, Dastyuk mold who play in tough circumstances every night and excel. Relative to those forwards, Cammalleri is a support player – a better one than Bourque most likely – but he’s not a cornerstone figure around which the organization can re-orient themselves and begin challenging the best in business. The Flames range of ability hasn’t shifted from 7-10 in the Western Conference. All Cammalleri does is move the team a little closer to that particular ceiling and little further away from the floor.
There are other reasons to view this move with a jaundiced eye. The acquisition of an expensive, 30-year old former Flame is an echo of the prior (failed) Darryl Sutter regime. The Flames surrendered two futures in the deal (a second round pick and Patrick Holland) and while neither of them is a good bet to be impactful in the future, the decision suggests the focus of the club hasn’t notably shifted despite the changing of the guard. For those urgently seeking a sign that the organization has finally fixed their gaze on the future, this recent move is anathema. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
In my Follow the Money article I noted the Flames would be disinclined to pursue a true shift in direction owing to noteworthy revenue/gate receipts. While the club hasn’t enjoyed any real success on the ice in recent memory, the market has consistently reinforced the Flames brass and ownership’s management nonetheless. Winning is the surest way to market a team and leverage your stars for profit, but it apparently isn’t the only way.
The cheers I heard while attending the Ducks game were, I think, as much the goal of this addition as anything else. With the Flames sinking to 12th in the conference, suffering through multiple injuries and playing a brand of hockey that can only be described as "soul sucking" (six shots through two periods last night folks), a sizable portion of Cammalleri’s not insignificant ticket may be written off as "marketing expense".
The buzz around Darryl’s return on Satruday has increased from a low hum to a anticipatory rumble thanks to the Cammalleri deal. Just last week I heard rumors they were swaths of lower bowl seats empty during recent ‘Dome games. I can guarantee there won’t be a single empty ducket for the game come tomorrow night, however.
The Cammalleri addition was ostensibly made to renew the Flames playoff drive, but it will also enliven the fans obviously flagging interest as well. It may not accomplish the former, but the latter is all but assured.