Michael Cammalleri has a lot going for him. He's good enough to have scored 39 goals and notched a couple of point-per-game seasons in the NHL. He takes elite care of his body. He's a new dad, with a happy home life. Problem is, he's not showing any of that on the ice this season. In fact, he's pretty much been a dud.
Game after game, Cammy's looking as lost as Hansel and Gretel in his own zone, only he hasn't left a trail of breadcrumbs to the other team's net. Unfortunately, the Canadiens aren't paying him six million bucks a year to put up fewer than twenty goals. That kind of money is for elite players, and Cammalleri so far this year has not looked elite. Because Scott Gomez is so spectacularly little value for dollars, most critics' radars hadn't yet focused on Cammalleri for the first thirty-odd games of the season. Factor in Cammalleri's great playoff performances and he's forgiven a lot. Until Gomez went down with injury, that is. Now with the team's worst-performing forward out of action, suddenly Cammalleri's failure to backcheck, weakness on the boards and general lack of effectiveness on offence is glaringly apparent.
At the end of the Blues game on Tuesday night, people booed when Cammalleri touched the puck. It may have been coincidence...just disgruntled fans voicing their displeasure at playing premium prices to watch a crap game. Or, it may have been actively directed at Cammalleri. The buzz around his bad play this year is growing louder.
Cammalleri reacted with the comments that have enraged some members of the fan base and have others lauding him for telling the truth about a terrible team and a terrible season. He said he's been hampered by the drop in his ice time he's seen since Randy Cunneyworth took over behind the bench. And he said the team is playing with a losing mentality that basically means the players don't believe they can win, feeling the slightest mistake will result in disaster. Sure enough, with everyone feeling that way, that's what happens.
The thing that's grating on some fans is Cammalleri's repeated use of "we" in his comments. It appears as though he doesn't take much of the blame for his poor play, but looks to share it with teammates or, in the case of the limited ice time, the coaching staff. That may be tactical on his part, in an effort to shame the team into playing better. Unfortunately, it comes across as a veteran player failing to shoulder the responsibility for his own inability to live up to expectations. Reinforcing that impression is Cunneyworth's response, which essentially is that Cammalleri is getting the ice time he deserves based on his play.
The question is, what do Cammalleri's words and his frustration mean in the big picture? He may be upset enough to want a trade away from Montreal, but his contract and his numbers don't match and he'll be hard to move. It's possible someone might take him at the deadline based on his stellar post-season record, but the return, considering the years left on his deal, won't be what it might have been if he was performing well.
If Cammalleri is seriously unhappy and showing few signs of breaking out of a season-long slump, it might be best for the team to move him if possible, just to release a player who never fit well into Jacques Martin's system, heavy on defensive responsibility. It would also signal the rebuild and give Cammalleri a chance to succeed elsewhere. If the team plans to start again with youth, it doesn't need an unhappy, underperforming veteran influencing the young players. Moving him could free up quite a bit of cap space as a bonus.
If Cammalleri isn't really done with Montreal and his words came from frustration, well, he might still have to go. The team that's stuck with the Gomez contract can't keep another one like it. Cammalleri, if he doesn't come up with a major turnaround soon, is at risk of becoming another albatross. He wants more ice time to prove himself. Cunneyworth and he need to sit down and discuss the issue, and the coach should probably take a flyer on giving the player more ice, with the caveat that if his interest level and own-zone play don't pick up...a lot...then he loses that privilege in favour of players who work harder.
Right now there are more benefits in letting Cammalleri go than there are in keeping him. It's up to him to examine his own words and take them to heart. He can turn it around and raise his value again, but he's going to have to put in the work. At the moment, it doesn't sound like he's willing to do that. We know he's better than this.