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Should the New Jersey Devils Try to Trade for Mike Cammalleri?

The New Jersey Devils need help at forward to provide offense and credible reporters have floated the news that the team may be interested in Mike Cammalleri. This post asks and tries to answer: Should the Devils try to go get him in a trade?

You'd have this facial expression if you were a Calgary Flame for the last two seasons too.
You'd have this facial expression if you were a Calgary Flame for the last two seasons too.
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Rumors by definition should be taken with a grain of salt.  Very few people ever own up to starting the rumor.  Some do it just to make something out of nothing.  Others come from those who know very little, hear something in passing, and assume it means anything.   The New Jersey Devils are famously tight-lipped as an organization.  Consider that four years ago yesterday, the Devils traded for Ilya Kovalchuk with very little word from anyone in media until the deal was imminent.  Rumors by their very nature aren't reliable and they are rarely involving the Devils.   When Lou makes a move, you and the press tend to know it when it happens.

That said, there are exceptions. Yesterday, Gulitti included in his Devils notes at the Bergen Record that the team may be interested in Mike Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames.  The source of that rumor comes from Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada.  Gulitti is the best reporter for the Devils and Friedman's reputation speaks for itself.  This isn't something cooked up by an "insiderr," some dude at buzz site, or speculation from a Hockey's Future poster coming true.  That Gulitti is reporting it and Friedman brought it up makes me think there's something to it.

It's no secret that the Devils need help at forward.  I and the other writers on this site have repeatedly talked about it all season long.   If the numbers haven't convinced you, then surely the recent one-goal games and more recent one-goal-games-turned-tied-late make compelling cases that the team needs more scoring.   If the results aren't enough, then consider that Peter DeBoer has tried all forwards possible in the top six in recent weeks and is now resorting to mixing them up in the hopes of getting those elusive goals.  If it works, then it may not be because of the change but of some other fortune.  The team would absolutely benefit from another scoring forward.  The best way to defend a one-goal lead is to make it a two-goal lead, if only to prevent future heartbreaks in the final few minutes of regulation.

As Matt pointed out last Friday, the trade deadline is coming up, less than two weeks after the Olympic Break ends. There's a de facto deadline this Friday at 3 PM EDT.  The rosters are frozen for the upcoming break.  Given that thirty NHL teams will not have any games for about two-and-a-half weeks, you can be sure all of them will analyze their roster and determine what they want to do ahead of the real deadline.  But the needs for some of them are visible now and not necessarily going to resolve themselves in the 5-to-8 games before the real trade deadline.  I'm not saying there will be a lot of action in the next 48 hours, but there could be some.  In the case of the Devils, who has a plethora of defenders and needs offense, don't be surprised if they're involved.

The situation looks to me to be appropriate, the need is clear, and there's at least smoke from reliable people surrounding the notion of getting Mike Cammalleri. So let's actually consider the possibility of the Devils being interested in Cammalleri.   If that isn't enough, consider that Cammalleri is in the final year of his current contract. With Calgary being a bad team, it's definitely possible that he gets moved soon.   This leads to the crucial question: Should the Devils actually go out and get him?

Cammalleri's production over the years seems to be in line with a scoring forward.  However, the more I look into his recent past, the less excited I become about this prospect.  First, as Gulitti noted, he has struggled somewhat this season.  In 39 games, Cammalleri has 13 goals, eight assists, and 124 shots. Those are somewhat modest point totals for a guy making $7 million this season.  He's sixth on the team in points and tied for third in goals. What's encouraging is that he's averaged over three shots per game.  To put that in perspective, only Jaromir Jagr has more than three shots per game this season.   Going back to Flame, Cammalleri is shooting at 10.5% this season, which is below his career percentage.  The Devils tried to "buy low" on a few forwards last season in the hopes that they would "bounce back." They did not.   As great as it would be to say that he's due for a streak or two, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Second, durability is definitely a concern.  Here's the list of fantasy hockey updates from CBS Sports regarding Cammalleri; notice that most of them are about injuries.  While players will get sick or get a minor injury, he's already missed time this season due to a hand injury and, more recently, a concussion.   He did play nearly all of the lockout-shortened 2013 season, but he's only had three seasons in his career where he played over 80 games - and those were several years ago.   One can never predict injury.  It's certainly not the player's fault for getting hurt.  Yet, if a team is looking to give up assets for a player, then it is in the interests of the team to make sure they are comfortable with the possibility that they'll get hurt and can't play.  In the case of Cammalleri, that's a very real possibility. It at least gives me pause.

Third, it's not quite clear how good of a player Cammalleri really is in 5-on-5.   His numbers this season at Extra Skater are not good on the surface. His numbers in the past five seasons at Behind the Net are also not good on the surface. There is a big explanation as to why his possession numbers with Calgary were so low in the past two seasons, though.  Calgary is not a good hockey team.  His 47.8% Corsi this season ranks fifth highest on a team that has exactly one player above 50%. In his last five seasons, he's only had one large negative CorsiRel number at Behind the Net, which means the guys coming on the ice after him were usually worse than Cammalleri in that department.   If Cammalleri was on a strong possession team like the Devils and got more offensive zone starts than defensive zone starts (something he hasn't received this season), then he'd look much better by this metric.  (Aside: He's also look much better if the goalies behind him could make some saves.  His PDO values over the last two seasons are hideous because of it.) Which would mean he's at least not dragging the team down.   Whether he would contribute in kind with production is another matter.

Fourth, Cammalleri would absolutely be a rental.  He's in the last year of his contract.  He's 31 and his best seasons as a producer are likely behind him.  If the Devils really like his game, then they could go after someone else and try to get him in the summer.  Arguably for less than the $6 million cap hit he has now.   The Devils do have the space to go after a big-money rental player.  Is Cammalleri that player?  By salary, yes.  By play this season,  I'm not so sure.

The fact that I'm unsure about the production alone makes me unsure about the Devils going after Cammalleri.  It's true that most of the players moved are players on bad teams or players who are struggling.  Good players regularly doing good things on good teams rarely get dealt.  After all, those are the players to keep.  It may come down to what the Flames would actually want for Cammalleri.  Gulitti noted that the Flames would be interested in picks and/or prospects.  The Devils are in a bad spot with the former since they don't have a first round pick this season.  I think dealing the 2015 first rounder or a potentially early 2014 second rounder is a poor choice.  The Devils do have plenty of mid-level prospects and multiple potentially very good young defensemen.  But how far should they be willing to go?  You have to give up talent to get talent.  If Cammalleri talented enough?  The possibility of a trade would appear better if Calgary was willing to take a struggling defender back, but that's probably not what they need so they probably wouldn't do that.

Personally, I'd rather have Lou look elsewhere than going after Cammalleri.   While he is a scoring forward, he hasn't been productive enough to make it an obvious improvement. While he shoots the puck a lot and plays significant minutes on a bad hockey team, there are other forwards who have done what Cammalleri has done in Calgary this season.  Brad Boyes or (despite a stupidly low shooting percentage) Tomas Fleischmann immediately come to my mind.  So does Matt Moulson of Buffalo, though the Devils would have to wait until after the Olympics when he's available.  I have no idea if Lou is or isn't looking at these players or others.  It seems to me he has at least entertained the thought of getting Mike Cammalleri.  While I keep hoping for some kind of deal to happen sooner rather than later, I'll take later if it means a better player coming back.

That's my take on the possibility of Mike Cammalleri becoming a Devil.  What do you think? Do you think Cammalleri would help the Devils out?  If so, why? If not, why not?  What other forwards should the Devils consider trying to get in a trade that would likely be available this week or before March 5?  Should the Devils make a deal before this Friday or before the March trade deadline, anyway?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Cammalleri and the larger concept of a trade in the comments. Thank you for reading.