Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cammy Unplugged

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.


Raj said...

I would posit that most good hockey players are probably self-centered and arrogant -- they would never have become elite in the NHL without a hefty dose of self-belief, hefty enough to scare (and possibly annoy) mere mortals like the rest of us. But those same arrogant, entitled brats probably know their hockey -- because, they also wouldn't be elite without a good sense of what is good hockey and what isn't.

If Cammalleri is traded, I will be annoyed with the team. It will have been one more step along the path of paying through the nose to acquire an asset and then losing it for much less than we paid -- you wrote a column about that many months ago. Cammalleri will have followed Sergei Kostitsyn, Patrick Roy, Rod Langway, Jaroslav Halak, John Leclair, and yes, even Benoit Pouliot (to mention just a few) onto the list of players where the Canadiens got fleeced in the trade (I know Pouliot wasn't traded, he was released, but the point still stands).

If Cammalleri is traded, Guy Lafleur's remark about the Canadiens having only 4 fourth lines will still be true and Randy Cunneyworth will be the reincarnation of Mario Tremblay. Why can't the Montreal Canadiens, the Flying Frenchmen of another era, accommodate a player with offensive flair? Why must "keep things simple", "drive to the net" and "work hard" be the ONLY principles driving our play? Cammalleri is right that if your philosophy is only to avoid making mistakes so you don't lose, you probably won't win much. You don't win consistently if you don't take some risks. For years, the complaint about the Canadiens has been poor offense; the players have said that they fear being stapled to the bench if they make a mistake. The team won't win that way. Trading Cammalleri would mean the team sees no reason to change that philosophy.

People on some of the other boards also advise we trade Pleks, Gill and Moen for picks or prospects, saying they are essentially replaceable. Well, Hamr and Halpern proved that wrong -- we still miss them because their replacements aren't as good. If the team makes panics moves like trading Cammalleri and Pleks, be afraid; be very afraid because it will be 1995 all over again.

moeman said...

I was happy when he was signed but the man gets into some funkie funks.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, we know Cammy as a better player than that. But this year he just slowed down too much, especially in his release. He gets the puck, holds it, shows it to the goalie, and then shoots a softy. I was quite impressed by Eller's 2nd and 3rd goals against the Jets, and by how fast he shot. Even on the slowed down replays he was fast. We need some of that by Mike Slowmolleri.

Anonymous said...

Hey JT

Timely piece and sadly, no easy answers here. I for one don't think it's a good idea to trade Cammy now - because I don't think the return will be all that great. The Canadiens have got to stop this business of "buy high, sell low." There is a whole roster of talented players currently in the NHL (Matt D'Agostini, Mike Ribeiro, etc) who were traded by the Habs for basically nothing. Cammy is an elite goal scorer who is having a bad season. It would be irresponsible to trade him for the likes of Corey Saich and a second round pick. Further, while Cammy may have committed the cardinal locker-room sin of airing dirty laundry in public, he fact is, he's right. The Montreal Canadiens do not play with the same gumption, the same fortitude, that they have played the past two seasons. If I knew why, I'd call Molson myself. But a guy like Mike Cammalleri who considers himself to be creative and high octane, well guys like that are also high maintenance sometimes. It's the price you pay for being like that. Not everyone can be an automaton like Plekanec.

Basically, where you see a spoiled athlete evading responsibility, I see a high caliber professional, who has always been honest with the media, expressing his frustration.

Either way, the guy cares.


J.T. said...

@Raj: I agree, passion and arrogance are hallmarks of the elite by necessity. What I think it comes down to in Cammalleri's case, though, is whether the team intends to salvage what it has now, or start over with a different philosophy. What is it the team intends to be? Young, big and skilled? Or expensive, small and streaky? When Cammalleri's doing well, he's scoring and his defensive lapses aren't as obvious. When he's not, he doesn't bring a lot to the ice. If he starts voicing his frustration with his teammates under those circumstances, he could do more harm than good. As for buying high and selling low, a guy like Cammy isn't quite the same as a home-grown prospect. He's an expensive free agent who's not living up to his contract. He was acquired for nothing but money and can be let go to save money without costing the team an investment of assets or development time.

If Markov comes back at the beginning of February as has been reported, Cammalleri will have a month of playing on a better PP to bring his numbers up before the trade deadline. If he doesn't, then the team has to start thinking about long-term planning and where he fits in. I've always been a proponent of forgiving a good player a single bad season, but you have to wonder if this is a one-off for Cammalleri, or the beginning of a trend.

Roy Shroud said...


Your comment about a one-of for Cammalleri maybe be long past. The guy unfortunately has been sulking seemingly since Gionta was named captain and since his shoulder injuries last season seems more concerned with avoiding any kind of contact rather than battling for loose pucks.

Too bad but it is obvious that Cammalleri wants out and approaching the trade deadline is willing to use any ways at his disposal to facilitate his own departure.

Sure he is a selfish player but elite athletes seem to all be selfish, they want the ball, they want the puck, they want to be the shooter or the recipient of the long touchdown pass. At the elite level most athletes have experienced success and adulation in lower levels of competition and believe in their own minds they are entitled at all levels.

Change of scenery is the best thing for Cammalleri but not to Boston, the Laffs or Philly! Puleese!

DanielleJam said...

Oddly, I can't read the there a problem on your end?

Steve said...

Weird I can not see the comments, totally agree JT

Anonymous said...

Cammalleri was dumb for making his comments, but I'm glad he did.

Starting with the pre-season this team has looked lethargic, disinterested and fragile in most of its games. Cammalleri's comments explain this and imply the cause is the coaches focusing on mistakes rather than on building a winning atmosphere.

Ken Hitchcock recently explained the Blues success by saying they spend very little time, under 5%, reviewing video of the other team, instead the Blues just focus on their own play.

Cammalleri's comment about the Habs having to respect the game plan indicate the Habs spend a lot of time trying to adjust their play to the other teams rather than focusing on the Habs' identity - whatever that is.

Cammalleri's poor play may simply be a reflection of his frustration with the game plans and coaches. It would be like JT being forced to blog about how grossly unfair the NHL has been to Chara, Lucic, and Marchant.

Cammalleri's future with the Habs will depend on how his teammates react to his comments. If they're glad someone finally said what had to be said then he has a future with the Habs. If they feel his comments are completely off-base then he will have to be moved.


Anonymous said...

I say trade him fast if there is anyone who will take him.Even though he did a great job in the past in the post season we need success now.

G said...

There are a lot of players on this team who are not suited for their roles. Cammi is one. On a good team which is winning he would not be whinning. But the pressure is on, he chokes, and he blows up. That is why he was available for the team. Gionta likewise is an opportunity player who comes out of nowhere when you least expect it and scores that big goal. Captain? I don't know. Pleks is a second or third line center who kills penalties and somehow seems to always be taking a bad one. Give him Jagr and Guerin on his wings three years ago and it's a different thing.

There are no leaders on the team. Sometimes they get along, sometimes they are a school bus. Buckets of talent but no one to drive it to a goal, no Crosby to shame everyone into working by simple comparison. Guys showboating and trying to do it themselves but who can succeed when they try and put the team mate into the limelight.

And that is why JM played Darche so much. At least you knew Darche would do his best every nite. Even if he didn't have 10% of some others skill he doesn't have that quit and sulk factor.

The team needs a Messier, a Crosby, or one of their own to kick some spoiled brat behind. That guy needs the team's backing. If the leader says Cammi goes to the AHL he goes and he doesn't come back. Sure he gets his bucks but it is the ego that matters with these guys. And nope, I'm not saying send Cammi to the A, or anyone. Just that there has to be accountability or there is anarchy.

And you may find that is why players don't want to go to Montreal. The room, not the town.

V said...

Hope we don't trade him. He will come around - still young and still with a great shot.

If 3-4 of those lasers he put off the post early in the season go in, everything changes and we aren't having this conversation.

Anonymous said...

@ JT:

Remember - Cammy was signed as a UFA to replace Tanguay's spot on the wing - who himself was acquired for a 1st and 2nd round pick. That value has to be replaced. And trading Cammy now won't achieve anything. The season is lost anyway.

Bottom line: It doesn't matter if the Habs acquired their assets via trade, draft or free agency. The organization's goal should be to maximize the value of ALL their assets, be it on the ice or on the trade block.

If the Habs do trade Cammy, the only way to maximize his value is to trade him during the draft / at the deadline, and when he is performing well.
Otherwise, the Habs will again get fleeced and will have lost an opportunity to acquire players who can actually help the team.


Raj said...

Well, that didn't take long. I suppose Bourque plus a 2nd rounder was the best the Goat could get for a former 39 goal scorer. To me, too reminiscent of Roy and Keane for Rucinsky, Kovalenko and Thibault. But Bourque has size and grit, so Cunneyworth will be pleased.

And JT, trading him during a game? That was classy, yes? And the Habs wonder why free agents don't want to come to Montreal?

Sorry -- I know I'm whining. I stopped foliowing the Habs briefly after 1996, and was Yogi Berra is alleged to have said, this is just too much "Deja vu all over again" for me. This season has been a farce: firing Pearn, then Martin, trading for Kaberle, hiring RC and then "gelding" him, and now trading Cammalleri hurriedly after a media scrum.

We are in full panic mode. The barbarians are at the gate but Praetorian guard won't save Emperor Gauthier now -- only he doesn't know it and won't have the grace to fall on his sword.

Anonymous said...

and whaddaya know, Cammy was traded for a glorified 3rd liner and a pick in 2013. That is awful value!


NorthCoastHab87 said...

All the blather aside, Montreal gives up an inconsistent first-liner for an even more inconsistent second-liner at best.

Montreal gets some size and some cap space, so Gauthier looks like a wise GM on the surface.

But could you imagine working at Gauthier's company? The timing and doublespeak surrounding his moves this year read like old stories from the KGB. The culture within the Habs has to be rotten at this point so my expectations for the team will remain low until Gauthier is no longer there.