It wasn’t long ago Mike Cammalleri wasn’t even able to grip a stick.
Now nearly everything that touches it seems to be finding the back of the net. After sitting out the first seven games of the regular season with a hand injury that also kept him sidelined through for most of the exhibition schedule, Cammalleri has been the team’s most consistent goal scorer.
He potted eight in his first 11 games, including four in three games before Thursday night’s ugly loss to the Dallas Stars. And even though his offensive contributions aren’t leading to many victories, Cammalleri’s hot hand has to have the Flames executives smiling upstairs.
Few teams were willing to make a serious offer for the 31-year-old winger this off-season when the Flames were open for business on the trade front, but you can bet a few of them have noticed what’s happening in Calgary and are flipping through the rolodex to find GM Jay Feaster’s number now.
The sniper has reason to grin as well, with his solid play coming in a contract year. Before the game against the Stars, Cammalleri wasn’t real interested in talking about all that, though. He gave his version of a verbal shrug as members of the local media asked him how it feels to be the hottest Flame and what it might mean for his future here — or somewhere else.
“There’s been no talk in that room about it,” he said. “I’ve got a young family, we’re pretty busy when we’re not playing. There’s been a lot of travel. I haven’t really had time to think about anything like that.”
What he means is shut up about it already.
Accepting that kind of attention has a way of ending hot streaks, annoying teammates, and making it seem as if he is motivated by things other than winning. Yes, his stock is rising, and the likelihood of him being traded earlier in the year rather than at the deadline is going up right along with it — if the right offer comes along.
Team will bide its time
The Flames aren’t in a hurry to make a move, but are always willing to listen. By the end of the calendar year, they will have identified which of the pending UFAs they hope to retain going forward. It’s a group that includes Matt Stajan, Lee Stempniak, Tim Jackman, Kris Russell, Chris Butler, and Derek Smith.
Stajan and Stempniak have proven to be good value players with leadership qualities, but neither is a natural goal-scorer like Cammalleri. That means the 30+ goal scorer would fetch more on the trade market for a team that will be looking to add additional pieces if (when?) making the playoffs is no longer a realistic possibility.
The Flames might also want to ask him if he’d be willing to stick around, and what kind of cash it would take to keep him. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely Cammalleri is interested in continuing down the path of this rebuild with his window to win a Stanley Cup dwindling and this possibly being his last chance to ink a lucrative deal with a contending team of his choosing. Plenty of them will be eyeing him if he continues to put the puck in the net regularly. His abilities have been questioned in recent years, but you can attribute his inconsistency to health issues, confidence variables, and the personal challenges of becoming a father.
He’s clearly still got the kind of shot coaches drool over, and a knack for finding room on the ice to unleash it. “He has that ability to shoot, with an unbelievable release,” said Flames coach Bob Hartley. “You can’t teach that.”
You can practise it, though. And Cammalleri did plenty of that growing up in southern Ontario with a net nestled in an unfinished basement where he spent hours firing pucks until it became almost effortless. It wasn’t so easy just a few weeks back, and for a guy who makes his living by leaning heavily on his stick, that hand injury was difficult for him to deal with.
“It was pretty concerning,” Cammalleri admitted. “It was one of those injuries I couldn’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel. It didn’t feel good at all, and then I had one day of puck handling. The next day I was able to shoot a bit, and then I was back in the lineup. It went from thinking, ‘Man, I can’t even really hold my stick properly,’ to playing — almost overnight.”
Apparently, there was very little rust to shake off.