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Free Agent Centers & the Devils: Mike Cammalleri

Today continues the look at centers.  Like Henrik Sedin, today's subject is a player who should expect a massive raise this summer: Mike Cammalleri.  He's coming off a career season in Calgary and based off of Kent W.'s quick assessment of Calgary's free agents, he's not returning to the Flaming Cs. So he's certainly available and based on his 2008-09 alone, he's worth a look.

Mike Cammalleri

#13 / Left Wing / Calgary Flames



Jun 08, 1982

2008-09 Salary: $3.6 million

2008 - Mike Cammalleri 81 39 43 82 -2 44 19 0 6 1 255 15.3

A big reason why he'll command a big salary next summer is clear  from his stat-line.  A point per game season - tied with the Sedin twins, leading 2009 UFAs in scoring.  With 39 goals, Cammalleri tied with Dany Heatley to finish ninth in the league in goal scoring last season. Moreover, he led Calgary in goal scoring last season and finished only 7 points behind linemate Jarome Iginla.  The guy loves to shoot, did it well, and put up all all these numbers with an average of only 17:33 per game, 4:03 less than Iginla's average of 21:36 per night.  Cammalleri wasn't just productive, he made efficient use of his time!  Oh, and this has been his only season with Calgary, so Cammalleri's success isn't just a result of playing mainly with Iginla, but due to his talent and quick adaptation to a new team.  I'm not terribly concerned with how he would fit in New Jersey as a result of how quickly he picked things up in Calgary.

OK, so he's not a playmaker like Henrik Sedin, but I don't think many Devils fans will complain about Cammalleri in a Devils uniform.  Should he keep producing like this, not many will be missing Brian Gionta terribly in New Jersey! And why shouldn't he keep producing? Cammalleri will be turning 27 this coming Monday, so he's in the prime of his career right now.  He has played at least 80 games since the lockout and his last major injury was a concussion in 2003-04, so health isn't a concern either. The Devils can get the best of him now and reap the rewards of the Devils scoring many more goals. For these reasons alone, he is worth a serious look.

However, there is a very big problem with Cammalleri.

I need to put this in bold letters: CAMMALLERI IS NOT REALLY A CENTER.

Cammalleri played his first full season with Los Angeles back in 2005-06 and took 578 faceoffs. 53.5%  In 2006-07, Cammalleri took  301 faceoffs. 54.2%; and in 2007-08, he took 380 faceoffs. 54.2 Last season in Calgary, he took 368 faceoffs. 60.3%  Now, Cammalleri is a scoring forward and as I understand it, played on the top two lines in LA and in Calgary.   Centers on the top two lines take way more than 300-400 faceoffs!  For comparison purposes, Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus - the centers on the Devils' top two lines last season - took 1278 and 972 faceoffs, respectively, last season.   From Cammalleri's total number of faceoffs in since 2005-06, it is clear that he played at wing in each of those seasons.  He has not played mainly at a center.

In Cammalleri's defense (or in the defense of those who want to see Cammalleri in a Devils uniform that badly), he has been very good on faceoffs.  His faceoff winning percentages from those four seasons are, in order, 53.5%, 54.2%, 54.2, and 60.3%.   So when he gets to the dot, his team, more often than not, ends up with the puck. That's very good.  However, I question whether he can sustain such a winning percentage when he's taking them on a regular basis.

This also brings up a more general question.  Cammalleri has been quite productive in his last four seasons, putting up 55, 80, 47, and 82 points - and he's done it all while mostly playing at either left or right wing.  While NHL Numbers and the player profile at, among other places, list Cammalleri as a center, he has largely played on the wing in the NHL.   As we saw with Dainius Zubrus in this past season, though, it's possible for Cammalleri to play at center and fit in well (or well enough).  The scouting report at his player page here does note that he "can play anywhere upfront."   Maybe he can just be put at center and there won't be any problem.  That would be the best case scenario.

Yet, if a player is successful at what he does at one position, why would you move them?  Zach Parise was drafted at center, but I think you would be foolish to suggest that he move away from left wing given all that he has done there.  Brian Rolston had his most productive years playing right wing and if Gionta doesn't return, he'll most likely end up filling that spot at right wing.  Why would you move him to center?  Patrik Elias actually has played center for the Devils before; but his best seasons were at left wing and he continued to be great last season at left wing.  Why put him elsewhere to accomodate Cammalleri or any other winger?  Especially when Elias and Rolston never were all that great at winning faceoffs?  If Cammalleri comes in and struggles at center, that's going to make him a bit of an albatross as to where to put him in the lineup.

And the positioning wouldn't be the only albatross/   More to the point, Cammalleri is going to command something similar to what Henrik and Daniel Sedin will get. All three put up 82 points and all three are excellent offensive talents.  He would have to have the dumbest agents in the world to sign for less than $5 million/year.  Along with the issues of paying $6+ million per year to a single player that I pointed out with Henrik Sedin and Jay Bouwmeester, Cammalleri adds an additional question.  Shouldn't the Devils get someone who actually played/plays center regularly if they are willing to pay this much for a player?  Again, I don't see why the Devils should spend this much for a wing when they are set on the top 6 for each side. Why should they settle for a forward who has proven himself mostly at wing? Yes, his versatility may make him more viable for the spot and for all I know, he could flourish at center.  Yet, I think that's a risk better taken for a player who isn't going to take up significant cap space all by themself.

While I feel Cammalleri would be an excellent addition to the Devils offense on paper, because I think it's a very real question as to whether he can play center for a full season and still be productive.  He hasn't done that in the last four seasons and given that he will be a very expensive free agent to sign, I don't think the Devils should risk hoping that he can.   Even if he did, the money makes signing him quite prohibitive and so I feel the Devils would be better suited looking at other centers to play in between Elias and Gionta/Rolston. 

Perhaps you would like to disagree, maybe you feel Cammalleri not only could play center for a full season?  Maybe you feel he can't and perhaps you would like to agree?  Maybe you have other thoughts and feelings and theories about Cammalleri?  Have your say in the comments below (about Cammalleri please).  If you would like to continue suggesting other centers for these kinds of posts, please make them in the comments of this FanPost (and don't forget about those draft prospects!)