Random Thoughts – Optionality and Mike Cammalleri


The Cammalleri non-trade has been a hot topic of discussion following the trade deadline (to the chagrin of some). The disappointment in the lack of return is understandable; Cammalleri was the last of the organization’s aging, expendable trade pieces and therefore the final asset one could reasonably expect to flip for a decent return without cutting into the backbone or new flesh of the club. with him not moving, Calgary will likely see another of its primary bargaining chips walk into the sunset without return, a la Miikka Kiprusoff. 

– The discussion of whether Burke is to be pilloried for his failure to leverage Cammalleri is a rather complex one. I suspect the Flames “interim” GM was hamstrung by a number of factors outside of his control, not the least of which was Cammalleri’s concussion and altogether lackluster play overall this season. The 31-year old winger suffered through an ill-timed 9-game pointless drought between January 7th and March 1 and is operating at roughly a 40-point pace this season.

His play by observation has matched the lackluster totals, at least as far as the last two months have gone. This doubtlessly suppressed his stock in the eyes of visiting scouts as the deadline approached.

Of course, the day was also filled with all sorts of complicating factors, including the lack of cap space for many of the contendors, with the few who could bear the addition of a few dollars battling over guys like Ryan Kesler (who also didn’t move), Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson. This interplay of various factors no doubt led to Burke chasin hesitant and shrinking offers from the few suitors he could find.

– On the other hand, I’m one of the few who probably would have taken even a 3rd round pick in return for Cammalleri. It seems pointless to worry about moving someone for a 10-15% chance at a future NHL, but I’ll lean on some of Nassim Taleb’s ideas from The Antifragile to make my case.

I’ll begin by stating that, in general, I would almost always operate at as a “seller” at the trade deadline were I an NHL GM. Not in the strict sense of a lousy team desperately selling off any and all assets for future returns, only that I would always be willing to consider moving marginal depth pieces for draft picks, depending on the level of demand. Think Doug Wilson dealing Douglas Murray for a pair of second round picks at the 2013 deadline for instance.

Anyways, in Antifragile, Taleb talks about “optionality”, or the strategy of trial and error where the potential gains of a “hit” far outweigh the small, recurrent costs of a “miss” – even when the occurence of a hit is apparently rare and random. He includes this graph to illustrate:

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder - Taleb_Antifragile.pdf 2014-03-11 20-29-18

In the Flames case, the cost of a moving Cammalleri for a hit is limited and known (or at least rather predictable): He is very unlikely to sign with the Flames, and even if he stays he’s more than likely to degrade rapidly as he approaches his 35th birthday which is when most NHLers more or less fall of cliff*. Even now Cammalleri is a good (but not truly high impact) NHLer – it won’t take much of a slide to move him into mediocre or worse territory.

*(This reality non-coincidentally increases the chances of his re-signing being a bad thing long-term for the organization, as it increases the risk that his next deal will become a toxic asset).

The third round pick, paradoxically, is very unlikely to be anything at all, but still has a greater likelihood of being something vastly more wortwhile to the Flames organization long-term. That’s because the potential “hit” of getting a impact NHLer in the third round, while rare and random, has a much, much higher pontential upside for the club than what is possible with Cammalleri. Particularly given the fact he is a) unlikely to stay with the team at a price that makes sense and b) is entering the sunset stage of his career when he won’t be of much use to an actively rebuilding club (concerns about mentoring the kids and leadership notwithstanding). 

I’ll put it another way: though I understand the probability of choosing a good or better NHLer in the third round is slim, I nevertheless regard that potential gain higher than the known, limited value that is Cammalleri for the Flames currently.

– The only way this isn’t true, I think, is Burke manages to convince the player to stay on a cheap, brief contract which will allow the team to avoid the risk of an expensive, longer-term deal and gives them the option of trying to flip him for a better return during a more seller friendly deadline. This is how I personally hope things play out.

– On to other things. I noted with amazement that Brian McGrattan scored a goal and managed 6 shots on net versus the Kings the other night. I was asked on twitter if this was “my worst nightmare”. Quite the contrary – I think it’s awesome when guys like McGrattan have big nights. My position of skepticism of the value of enforcers (and the need for toughness for toughness sake in general) is a tactical concern. I can express doubt about the viability of old school notions about the fighter role and also simultaneously admit that what goons do requires sacrifice and courage – and that many of them seem to really likable guys besides.

So congrats, Big Ern. I don’t begrudge you your scoring streak at all.

– Finally, I am as guilty as anyone for continuously pointing and laughing at our hapless neighbours up north. On the other hand, I am becoming ever more aware that hubris and incompetence (of which there is a seemingly endless supply in all endeavours, the NHL included) can mean that a rebuild can become an unending Sisyphussian torment foisted upon a wailing, yet entirely helpless, fanbase.

The rebuild is not a foolproof road map back to relevance, and clearly even multiple first round picks don’t guarantee the inevitable turn around. So even while am I still able to poke fun at our rivals boundless purgatory, my fear grows that we could very well join them in their wander through the unnavigable fog. 

  • EugeneV

    The Cammy trade in my thinking has nothing to do with Cammy at all. It’s about posturing and as a GM you can’t ever show a weak move or else you will loose credibility and thus lower the prices on all your guys. If Cammy goes for a third that’s a steal, then next year teams know that if they out wait the flames they will be able to get a better deal cause Calgary is soft. “Loosing” a third round pick and Cammy is nothing compared to loosing bargaining power in ALL trades moving forward. Burke I am sure knows this and it’s bargaining 101 at university if any of you guys want to know the basics…

    • piscera.infada

      I think that’s oversimplified. If Cammy had played well at all over the last two months and not been injured, he’s probably in the conversation with the Vanek’s and Moulson’s of the league rather than being of less worth. If that’s the situation, Burke obviously has far more leverage in these discussions. I agree with you (and Burke) on not being bent over a barrel, but he likely wouldn’t be in that situation if other GMs couldn’t say “how about that concussion” or, “how about the zero goals he’s scored in the last two months” – it’s difficult to sell a guy as a goal scorer when he’s not scoring.

  • Skuehler

    I get what you say about the 3rd rounder we might have missed having the potential to turn into a valuable piece, but the odds are so long that it is unlikely.

    If, as others have said, a 3rd rounder has a 10-15% chance of being an NHLer at all, they obviously also have even longer odds of being an impact player or some sort of late round miracle like Zetterberg.

    You could make the same argument for lottery tickets. $3 dollars is meaningless to me, and every ticket I might buy vastly improves the potential of a big score, but the odds are so long that it probably isn’t going to happen.

    I don’t think the odds are good enough to justify the amount of hand wringing over this trade not happening. Cammi is only 30 (I think), and no one wants a rudderless train wreck like they have in Edmonton with no vets.

    • Parallex

      Of the reguler guys under contract Hudler, Jones, Glencross, Stajan, Giordano, Wideman, & Smid are all still going to be here plus whomever the Flames sign to get up to the floor… seriously Cammy isn’t the difference between rudderless train wreck no vets and the opposite.

      It comes down to this… what is more valuable to the Flames going forward, 20 games of Cammellari (after which he probably walks as a UFA) or a 10-15% chance of having a cost controlled NHL’er? In my mind it’s a no-brainer for the 10-15% chance.

    • RedMan

      I agree. The other consideration is what is the present value of an asset versus the future value of a somewhat better asset in 5 or 10 years down the road? Sort of a time value for money thing.

      In order for the theory to pan out, you need a better return in a finite period of time. If you can guarantee that, then sure, trade him for a third but the fact is you can’t guarantee a random, hi impact “hit” in the requisite time.

      On another point, I don’t think too many of the GMs out there have any illusions about Burke being soft on a deal and I doubt he has to reinforce his image every trade.

  • EugeneV

    I must admit I get a little worried when McGrats scores because I imagine Brian Burke / Heartly deciding all of a sudden he is a scorer and needs more ice time or needs to be moved up a line.

    That being said I think it is an important lesson for him and for all the flames when they see what comes of shooting the puck.

    He might not be a sniper, but if McGrats could be shooting 5-6 shots all the time he would be a lot more effective and score a hell of a lot more often.

    Sven should have been shown something like that over and over early in the season. Get it into your head kid, you are a talented guy and if you shoot the puck its eventually going to go in.

  • WestmountWailer

    Really good article. I think we both know that getting Cammy on a 1-yr deal is probably not going to happen, if he even re-signs at all, but yeah, that would be the best case scenario.

    I’m curious as to why you think that this is the case with Cammalleri and not with Matt Stajan, who would’ve likely garnered a 2nd, at the very least.

    Is it because he plays C? Or just the fact that he can help to shelter the youth in terms of QoC?

    IMO, that was another big miss by Burke but I’m pretty sure I’m in the vast minority on that one and I think a big reason is because you expressed your opinion otherwise… but then you write this… so I want to know if your opinion is still the same re: Stajan.

  • jonahgo

    Resign Cammi to a 1 year deal worth 6 million, we have the cap space (an over pay for sure, but it makes sense for Cammi) trade him next trade deadline, hopefully after Cammi had a great season without injuries.
    The other teams know they will have to pay up to get him from Burke…..first rounder plus.

    Cammi can then sign his last big contract the year after.


    • McRib

      Im actually in full agreement with your strategy! I doubt you will ever get a 1st rounder for him but at least recoup the 3rd rounder you should have got this year!

    • Parallex

      I think you over-estimate the possibility of Cammy signing a 1 year deal. If he can get a 3 year deal (which he probably can) for 4M AVV (again he probably can) he’d almost certainly sign that (it’s twice as much money and more security) over a 1 year deal with us.

    • T&A4Flames

      There is no way we should have to overpay Cammi even for 1 year. I think consensus is that between the concussion & Cammi crapping the bed in his play, his value plummeted in a real tough trade market. If I were Burke, I would sit down with Cammi & discuss Cap & where it may not be & how his performance/injury declined the demand for his services. He may find the same thing come July. Now if were to sign a 1-2 year deal at a more Cap friendly 3.5-4.0mill per, & he backs that up with a good season next fall, will have a better ending & better chances of being a sought after trade piece next TDL. Moral of the story is I don’t think he has played himself into a prime UFA contract scenario. Maybe if he goes on a tear these last 15-16 games & pots 10-12 goals in that span.

  • Excellent post Kent.

    I’d add I’m having similar ideas vis-a-vis Ryan Kesler. The media like to focus on trades where dealing yielded a very high positive return: Lindros for Forsberg, Kurvers for Niedermayer, etc: but miss the large number of deals where the selling team got nothing in return.

      • Parallex

        Yeah, value on just negotiating rights is low to start with and I imagine even lower this year. We paid a 3rd (plus the rights to Leopold) for the rights to Bouwmeester but he was the premium upcoming UFA on the market that year and was still in his prime… not gonna get that for Cammy.

    • McRib

      Very, very unlikely. When the Flames acquired JBouw’s neg. rights, it cost them a 3rd and an expiring UFA in Jordan Leopold, and that was for J Bouwmeester coming out of Florida, where he was a bonafide 15 goal scorer.

      With Cammaleri, I think Burkie would be a hero if he could manage to get a 5th

  • T&A4Flames

    Not knowing A) what Burke was offered and B) what Burke and Cammi’s agent had discussed prior to the deadline, I’m pretty indifferent to the Non-trade. I subscribe to the thought that anything is better than nothing, but in the bigger picture, missing out on a 3rd or worse is not a franchise ending scenario.

    Personally I hope the new GM signs Cammi to a high cap/low term contract and then immediatley trades him. Retain some salary as that helps us, likely, over the next 2-3 years. All parties benefit, Cammi gets paid, CGY gets salary for the cap floor and hopefully some younger assets and another team gets a goal scorer (assuming he finds his game) on a low risk great salary deal.

  • seve927

    As I’ve said before, I don’t think you can look at the Cammalleri deal by itself. Burke pushed everything to the last possible second. Given that we don’t really know what offer he turned down for Cammy, I don’t see how we can really judge it negatively given what he got using his approach. I don’t think you can say he got lucky on the Berra and Stempniak deals. It would appear he got better than market value (although I think Stempy was a steal for Pittsburgh) on a couple of deals. He lost one. If he signs a ridiculous contract here, we can talk about that when it happens – until then I’d say it was a good deadline.

  • Derzie

    I was pretty stoked to see Grats pick up the 2nd Flames goal on Monday night. But the 6 SOG is misleading. He took at least 3 shots from the same spot near centre ice that he did when he scored on Eddie Lack. Replicating that same goal is a long shot, especially on a different goalie who likely saw that goal. But to try it over and over again, it was pretty frustrating to see in the stands.

    Who’s to say Burke was even offered a 3rd round pick for Cammi? Why do people automatically assume that’s what he was offered? What if he was offered a 4th or 5th round pick? Unless you know for certain what he was offered, I’d hardly judge him for holding on to Cammi. If people are so stuck on Burke wanting to make the team “bigger” and “more truculent”, Cammi would be the first person Burke would want out of town. If he was offered a 3rd or better, he would have definitely traded him.

    • MichaelD

      I know what “helpless” means….and a buddy of mine got “foisted” once back in college after funnelling a mickey of vodka but… emm, you lost me on the rest.

  • RedMan

    “I must admit I get a little worried when McGrats scores because I imagine Brian Burke / Heartly deciding all of a sudden he is a scorer and needs more ice time or needs to be moved up a line.”

    And as fast as I can write it, it happens McGrats gets moved up to the 3rd line tonight..

  • WestmountWailer

    You have to figure Cammi’s cap hit hurt the ability to move him. With so many teams at or near the limit even retaining 50% he would still be difficult to move.

  • McRib

    Any possibility they move Hudler at the draft?

    I guess what I’m really asking here is if there’s a chance teams will show significant interest in him. Obviously, there’s no real onus to move him at that point, given his recent cold streak and injury, and the fact he’s signed for two more years.

  • McRib

    If we didn’t steal a 2nd rounder for Reto Berra and get decent value for Lee Stempniak wih a 3rd sitting idle on Cammalleri would sting much more for me.

    I also don’t think we left a lot on the table by holding onto him we saw what Edmonton got in return for the likes of Ales Hemsky. I doubt we were even offered a second more likely two Top. 100 picks with his looming UFA Status and injuries this season, Mike Cammalleri really has not wowed me this year at all he has 16 goals most of which have been scored from the backdoor position on the power play even strength in nothing games and he is very close to passing his prime….

    If I am Pittsburgh and I have a choice between Lee Stempniak for a 3rd or Mike Cammalleri for a 2nd and 3rd it is a no brainer at least I know I have a good chance to resign Stempniak for fair value and if he isn’t scoring he is a better third line energy player. Whereas Cammalleri is a power play guy that isn’t scoring and will need to take away PP time from your all-stars to do so. I think a lot of NHL Teams looking to make a push (where Cammy would have requested to go) said we don’t need a purly offensive special teams player we already have that in our stars we need more depth.

  • jonahgo

    I really like the “always be a seller at the deadline” (with caveats) strategy. My sense is that at the deadline, getting a good return for an impending FA has much less to do with a GM’s skill or acumen and much more to do with opportunity and market forces. This would explain the seeming paradox of Burke being able to get an excellent return for Berra, a decent return for Stempniak, and not being able to move Cammalleri.

    Additionally, the idea that the franchise will gain leverage in future deadlines due to inaction this deadline is patently silly. The return for rental players in the context of future deadlines will still be tied to these forces.

  • Rockmorton65

    I got to say, I’m not overly concerned we didn’t do more at the draft. On Fan 960 on the day of the draft, Winnipeg’s GM said that there were several teams that were frustrated at the end of the day. He said there was one player, who ultimately wasn’t moved, that congested things right up until the deadline. I’m thinking Kesler. Any teams in on Moulson, Vanek, or Cammi would probably be more interested in Kesler , if the price was right. From the sound of things, when it became apparent this player wasn’t going to be moved, everyone else was left scrambling until the last possible minute. That would also explain why Vanek and Moulson got such low returns. I don’t think that Cammi wasn’t moved because the only offer Burke got was a third round pick.

    It should be pointed out too, that it was Cammi’s agent that restarted negotiations hours after the deadline passed.

  • Derzie

    idoubt cammellari gets much more than 5 million per year contract, more likely a multiyear contract at 4million. I my opinion, Burke couldn’t trade Cammellari for less value than he would criticize Feaster for. (ie anything less than a 2nd round pick would be unacceptable). So he ended up not moving Cammellari, and really Cammellari didn’t help his trade value by getting injured and not scoring. So it is what it is, there are arguments for both sides, but without knowing what we gave up, it is moot point now. So can we stop arguing on this point now?

  • Rockmorton65

    Web definitions

    (Greek legend) a king in ancient Greece who offended Zeus and whose punishment was to roll a huge boulder to the top of a steep hill; each time the boulder neared the top it rolled back down and Sisyphus was forced to start again

    I didn’t hear any of the media asking Burke about if any GMs had made any inquires on guys like Hudler, Wideman or Glencross. Burke has stated there were two untouchables in Gio and Monny but I wanted to know if there were offers on Jiri, Dennis and Curtis. You would have gotten a lot more return for Hudler than Cammy. Hudler despite being hurt has been one of the best Flames this season. GMs should have been knocking down walls to get this guy.

  • beloch

    I’m going to come out right now and bet on Cammalleri being signed with the Flames again. Here’s why:

    1. It’s true that UFA’s frequently walk. However, a rather large percentage of the time this happens because their team is unable or unwilling to take on their cap-hit. Calgary has plenty of cap-space.

    2. We know Burke talked to squid about re-signing. Burke therefore had some idea what it would take. If there was no way in hades the squid would come back for at least one more season, then a fire-sale trade would have made more sense.

    3. Burke is going to look like a grade-A moron if he let’s Cammalleri walk, so he’ll likely overpay by quite a bit to get the job done if he has to.

    Like most hockey players, Cammalleri probably wants a cup ring. However, he is not a player who is going to be squeezed out of the league before he’s 35. He’s got several good seasons left and his top priority right now is probably setting up a retirement contract. If he feels the league’s GM’s have him undervalued after this season he might prefer a bridge contract so he can prove himself and get better money. Alternatively, he might want a decent term now. This matters less to the Flames than people think. Cammalleri may also want a limited NTC to make sure he isn’t traded to a team that’s not in contention for the cup. Burke will likely be forced to give him this.

    If the Flames sign Cammalleri to a one-year bridge contract, we get to repeat this season, although hopefully without squid being injured and then going cold right when he needs to impress. If the squid wants term, Burke can give it to him if the cap hit is reasonable, and it really ought to be after the season he’s just had! If Cammalleri is signed to a reasonable multi-year contract this year, but impresses next year, he could easily be worth more than he was this year as a playoff rental.

    Bottom line, Cammalleri is unlikely to walk. The real trick, for Burke, is to get Cammalleri signed to a contract that will be easy to trade.

    P.S. As for when squid will re-sign, it’s unlikely to be before the season is over. If he feels undervalued, the remainder of the season represents a chance to bring his value back up.

    • Skuehler

      This seems like a best case scenario. if it happens it gives Burke some options to make “a hockey trade” if and when one is avail.

      Also, Cammy’s age, concussion and cool production put a bit of pressure on him, giving Burke back some leverage in the negotiations. if there is good faith between the two then your predictions seem reasonable.