Mike Cammalleri was thrilled to be a Calgary Flame again. Or was the thoughtful 29-year-old forward simply over the moon to have been written out of the Montreal Canadiens season-long soap opera?
"There's an excited hockey player coming to Calgary and a guy who is ready to jump into that playoff race," Flames general manager Jay Feaster said.
"To hear the passion and emotion and enthusiasm that he had when I called him a little while ago, I'll take that. It's something we need in the locker room, something we need on the bench. That passion and emotion."
It wasn't long ago when Cammalleri had that passion and emotion playing for the Canadiens. Even though his regular season production dropped off in Montreal in the past 2½ seasons, he certainly picked up the pace in the playoffs, especially with his brilliant 16 goals in his last 26 post-season outings.
Cammalleri, however, wrote himself into the Habs soap opera this week. In comments after practice on Wednesday, he pointed out how his ice time had diminished under interim coach Randy Cunneyworth and he gave an honest assessment that the Canadiens had suffered from a losing mentality for most of this season.
He didn't back down from those remarks on Thursday, but he was surprised the fervour it caused. Next thing he knows, he was told to undress in the second intermission of the Canadiens 2-1 loss to the Bruins in Boston and make his way back to the team hotel to await word on a trade.
About an hour or so later, the deal was announced. Cammalleri was headed back to Calgary, where he scored a career-high 39 goals in 2008-09, along with Finnish goalie Karri Ramo and a 2012 fifth-round draft pick in exchange for Rene Bourque, junior Patrick Holland and a second-round pick in 2013.
Ramo, 25, plays for Omsk Avangard in Russia. Holland, a 20-year-old right wing from Lethbridge, Alta., was a 2010 seventh-round selection. But he has played well in his third season for the Tri-City Americans with 28 points in last 16 games to move into the Top 10 in scoring in the WHL.
Feaster and his Canadiens counterpart Pierre Gauthier both revealed this deal had been in the works for a month. Meanwhile, this is another strange episode in a woeful season in Montreal.
It all began when the Canadiens misjudged Andrei Markov's recovery from knee surgery. Gauthier felt the defenceman would be ready, if not to start the season, by November. Markov still hasn't suited up for a game and this has left the Montreal's blue-line thin and its power-play in disrepair.
Then came the firing of popular assistant coach Perry Pearn before a early-season game, the eventual dismissal of head coach Jacques Martin last month and the controversy that engulfed the organization when Gauthier installed an Anglo in Cunneyworth as Martin's replacement.
The Cunneyworth episode was not lost on Bourque on Thursday, when he met with reporters in Calgary.
"I might be in trouble," he said. "I don't speak French, even if I have the most French name on that team."
Bourque of Lac La Biche, Alta. then added that he would take French lessons. He served the fourth game of five-game suspension on Thursday.
Gauthier believes he has made his team bigger and better with this trade. We're not so sure. But the 30-year-old Bourque has scored 67 goals in 191 games in past 2½ seasons, compared to 54 in 170 matches for Cammalleri.
"The trade was made to add size to forward group," Gauthier said. "We need players who can score goals from tough areas."
This trade has not only made the Canadiens bigger, but has given them more salary cap space to work with. Cammalleri's salary cap hit is $6-million and he has two more seasons after this year. Bourque's makes a $3.33-million and has four years remaining on his deal after this year.
Cammalleri had built a home in Montreal that he had yet to move into. He did not ask for a trade, but this development didn't diminish his excitement level. His first game with Calgary will be against Darryl Sutter and the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. It was Sutter, when he was Flames GM, who failed in an attempt to keep Cammalleri in Calgary three summers ago.
Cammalleri wanted to stay with the Flames. Now he goes from the 12th team in the East to the 12th team in the West, but to a club that has a better chance of working its way into playoff contention.
"Mike Cammalleri is a dynamic player who enjoyed great success playing in Calgary," Feaster said. "We are confident that a return to Calgary will be good for Mike and good for our continued pursuit of a playoff berth."
We'll know more on how this trade works out for both teams when the Flames and Canadiens meet in Calgary on Mar. 6.
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