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January 16, 2012
Veteran Forward Swap, North Of The Border
by Kent Wilson and Ryan Wagman
Traded winger Rene Bourque, RW Peter Holland, and a 2013 second round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for Michael Cammalleri, G Karri Ramo, and a 2012 fifth round pick (January 12, 2012)
The Cammalleri acquisition is useful both on and off the ice for the Calgary Flames.
On the ice, it gives the team another top-six, power playweapon. Even while healthy, the Flames have a dearth of truly dangerous snipers up front, and with their recent rash of injuries, the Flames were dressing a host of fringe players and rookies. Only the top line of Iginla, Jokinen, and Glencross were scoring consistently and even then they have been spending too much time trying to defend against other club's top lines. Cammalleri is an instant injection of depth.
In addition, the move can be seen as a sort of "addition by subtraction". Rene Bourque had 13 goals for the Flames this season, but only three assists and was frequently a detriment in other areas. For example, Bourque had some of the worst relative possession rates amongst regular forwards on the Flames both this season (-4.9/60) and last (-9.8/60). He also had the second worst minor penalty differential on the team (-8), behind only defenseman Corey Sarich (-9). In contrast, Mike Cammalleri has a +8 minor penalty differential so far this season, meaning the Flames should spend less time penalty killing and more time on the PP thanks to the swap.
Budget-wise, the Flames rid themselves of a potential albatross contract by moving Bourque. Re-signed in 2009 by Darryl Sutter to a six-year, $3.33 million per year contract, Bourque's devolvement into a limited, one-way player over the last couple of seasons meant his deal was a poor bet to provide value, both in the short and long terms. While Cammalleri is almost $3 million per year more expensive, he's slightly younger, likely more impactful, and his contract is two years shorter.
Off the ice, the Flames management made a bold, unambiguous statement that they won't be pursuing a rebuild strategy this season. While that can certainly be construed as naive and fruitless, the commitment at least gives both fans and the players a firm idea of the goals and objectives of the club the rest of the way. Down the road if the Flames finally decide to restack the deck and rebuild, Cammalleri will be 32 years old when his contract expires and could be a player the Flames can either deal for futures or keep as a supporting veteran as the restock the cupboard.
As for the rest of the pieces involved, Karri Ramo is a 25-year-old starter in the KHL who has posted a better than .920 save percentage in the second-best league in the world the last couple of years. With Miikka Kiprusoff turning 35 and nearing the end of his contract with the Flames, Ramo may be a guy who can challenge for the Flames starter position a year or two down the road.
Overall, the deal is a strong one for Calgary. Although Cammalleri is unlikely to return to the 39-goal, 82-point player he was last time in town, he's a decent offensive weapon and his addition to the roster will be an instant shot in the arm for a team that will hope to challenge for the final playoff spot in the West.
Traded winger Michael Cammalleri, G Karri Ramo, and a 2012 fifth round pick to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for winger Rene Bourque, RW Peter Holland, and a 2013 second round pick (January 12, 2012)
Having lately taken over the honorarium of Drama Capital for the NHL, embattled GM Pierre Gauthier made another head-scratching decision on Thursday night. Down 1-0 after forty minutes in Boston to Original Six nemesis and the reigning Cup champion Bruins, the outspoken Cammalleri, a top-six forward even in a down year (currently at 1.94 points per 60 minutes, where anything above 1.8 per 60 is top-six worthy), was asked to leave the rink immediately and go to the team hotel to await further instructions. As Twitter erupted, it soon emerged that the former Michigan Wolverine had been traded back to Calgary.
After the recent brouhaha over the team's decision to hire Randy Cunneyworth, a non-French speaking Anglophone, to replace the fired Jacques Martin through the end of the season, so many immediately thought that the trade, shipping out an Italian/Jewish kid from the Toronto suburbs for a player with obvious Francophone heritage in Rene Bourque may have been a small sacrifice to the protesting Quebecois nationalist hordes. Gauthier denied that charge as well as the one that placed the cause of the deal on his former charge's recently publicized remarks about the losing atmosphere surrounding the team. He had to, as it turned out that the newest Canadien spoke no more French than his coach, as Bourque is a Native American of Metis heritage from Lac La Biche, Alberta, a two-hour drive northeast of Edmonton instead of a descendent of the house of Raymond.
Bourque, who recently made headlines for his wayward elbow, is finishing up a five-game suspension (victim Nicklas Backstrom remains on the shelf, however). Looking just at raw GVT, both Cammalleri and Bourque have been close to even this year, with each player compiling between 2.6-2.7 GVT on the year (as of January 8, 2012), in near equal playing time. Digging deeper, we see that those numbers came about in vastly different ways. As already mentioned, Cammalleri has solid offensive chops, and most of his value came through his offensive play. Although not useless defensively (decent possession numbers with Montreal), his overall value was brought down by -0.8 shootout GVT (he was 0-3 on the season). Bourque, on the other hand, split his contribution evenly among offense and defense, both coming in around 1.5 goals versus replacement threshold. With only one shootout attempt (failed) on the season, that aspect of his game could not harm his overall numbers. Where a gap appears between the two former NCAA foes (Bourque played for the Wisconsin Badgers), is in their respective scoring rates. While Cammalleri is a good second line player, Bourque, scoring only 1.41 points per 60 minutes at even strength play, is a better fit on the Canadiens' third line.
Interestingly enough, Bourque was not on a regular line this year with Calgary, as each of the three players to appear most often with him on the ice were all defensemen, indicating that his linemates were of inconsistent quality. With Montreal, the undrafted former Badger will likely play with Tomas Plekanec at even strength, if not on the power play as well. Montreal runs the risk of orphaning their first line center, as both his frequent wingmen of the first half of the season are no longer at his side. Days before the trade of Cammalleri, right winger Brian Gionta was lost likely for the season, with a severe forearm injury. With Bourque still unavailable, Plekanec lined up with fellow centerman Scott Gomez and LW Andrei Kostitsyn on Saturday night.
It should also be pointed out that one of the other main factors often cited for this trade, size, has been vastly overblown. Only five of the Habs' regular forward corps came in under six feet tall, and Gionta's replacement will likely increase their mean height even more. With the diminutive Cammalleri shipped out for a bigger body in Bourque, the remaining forwards in the five-foot club are the aforementioned Plekanec and Gomez (both stocky enough to not be mistaken for small), and the truly small duo of Gionta and David Desharnais. Even without Bourque, this was not a team lacking in muscle; this was a team lacking skill. Dumping the talented and grittier-than-his-size Cammalleri for Bourque, a player who can shoot the puck but has historically had awful possession numbers, does not change that.
On the ice, the Habs lose this trade in the immediate sense, in that they gave away the best player. Looking at less immediate factors, Gauthier has better positioned his charges for future success. Cammalleri was decent, but could not live up to his exorbitant cap hit of $6 million, not this year, nor for the next two seasons. Although Bourque will remain under contract for two seasons longer than Cammalleri, his cap number is a much more palatable $3.33 million, giving Gauthier (or more likely his replacement) more room to build a roster around him.
Finally, while neither Ramo nor Holland, a 20-year-old winger finishing up his CHL career with the Tri-City Americans, are likely to swing the balance of this trade very much in either direction, Montreal did acquire a valuable second round pick in 2013 (again, for Gauthier's successor), at the low cost of a fifth round pick this season.
While both the Flames and the Canadiens currently sit in 12th place in their respective conferences (as of Sunday, January 15, 2012), Calgary is only four points out of eighth, while Montreal is a much more daunting eight points back. This trade should give the Western team a moderately better basis with which to challenge for the postseason this year, while moving the Eastern side one step closer to a rebuild.
Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.
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