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Devil’s Advocate: Michael Cammalleri

Cammy has been injured for a lot of the season, but he was far from useless when healthy this season.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the expansion draft coming up, there is not much worry, and even some excitement about the draft among Devils fans. They hope that Vegas will mercifully take away one of our deadweight players. Devante Smith-Pelly is terrible. As hated as he is, I honestly think it should be more. The problem is that he won’t get taken because we have too many other good players. I wrote a defense of Ben Lovejoy and I do think that we should be able to agree on him being a 3rd pairing defender. While already better than DSP, it’s still not something that people seem much-maligned over losing and perhaps they are right. We still have to expose a forward after them and can only protect 3 other defenders. Well after Greene and Severson, Moore and Merrill are lobbying for the third spot.

After being a staunch critic of Merrill for a long time, I came around this season and hope we protect him over Moore. Merrill was possibly our most efficient overall defender this season. But John Moore has a lot of marketability. He was a 26-year-old defender that scored 12 goals. Only 6 defenders his age or younger in the league accomplished that and he did it on a bad team. So between one of them and Lovejoy, we already have two more desirable players than DSP in my opinion. And that brings us to that last player, the second mandatory exposed forward.

We have only 6 forwards that meet the minimum exposure requirements and Zajac, Palmieri, Hall, and Henrique are obviously integral members of the team that will be protected. Meaning the exposed will be DSP and the titular player —Micheal Cammalleri.

The Case for Cammalleri

At even strength, Cammalleri had 1.15 P1 (goals + first assists) per 60 minutes this season. That is behind only Palmieri (1.24), Hall (1.24), Zajac (1.23), and Parenteau (1.20). It is one slot above Henrique (1.08) and no one else has over 1 — Bennett and Noesen lead the best of the rest with 0.98. So Cammalleri is firmly within the salary expectation of his per-minute production.

We were also spoiled with his production last year. He had an absurd 2.35 first points per 60 minutes last year which was not only his career high, but it LEAD THE NHL. Let that settle in. I’m not doing any hedging here. There are no bells and whistles to this stat. This means that Cammalleri had more goals and first assists per minute than ANY OTHER PLAYER IN THE NHL just last year. Higher than Kane, McDavid, Crosby, Hall, everyone.

This is what the top 20 looked like in 2015-2016:

It’s actually not even that close. You may be curious at this point if you have massively underestimated Cammy’s career. No you haven’t. His career average is closer to 1.4. You might be concerned that he is on the decline. And you may even be right, but this isn’t unprecedented in his career even. It happened in 2015 before that massive spike last year. It happened at the end of 2013 too and he was fine.

Those are very shallow estimations of a player’s skill though. Goals and points can obviously be very chaotic and can be relatively poor representative measures of a player’s quality. A popular high-volume alternative is Corsi so let’s look at that.

There is no indication that he is slowing down. He isn’t even at a career low and he has, in fact, improved over the course of the year. This is all history though. Let’s talk this year. He was a healthy scratch two consecutive games that must mean he’s been specifically inept this year. The time series below is for Cammalleri’s scoring chances per 60 minutes over that last two years.

Cammalleri finished strong this year! I know, I sound stupid. Cammalleri went without scoring for the final 28 games of the season. Here’s the thing — that’s really weird. Cammalleri didn’t stop getting chances — he got more (see above). He didn’t stop shooting — he took 63 shots over that span. He has a 12.3 career shooting percentage. The probability of him missing a shot is 87.7 and the probability of him missing 63 in a row is (0.877)^63 which is 0.0003 or a 0.03% chance. This is a bonkers event that we are basing a decision on.

On last point. I used an argument for Ben Lovejoy that he was on the most productive pairing when adjusted for score and zone effects. Conveniently, it works again for Cammalleri. The second most productive line in adjusted expected goal ratio was Hall, Palms, Zajac. The #1? Henrique, Hall, and Cammalleri. That is courtesy the Corsica Combos page.

In fact, as it turns out, of all the players that have played substantive time (200+ minutes) only Zajac appears to have been actively hurt by him.

So let’s review:

  1. Michael Cammalleri was the best point per minute producer in the league last year.
  2. He was top 5 on the Devils in points per minute this year -- an appropriate slot for his salary.
  3. Cammalleri has NOT significantly regressed.
  4. He’s been a positive impact in possession on the team, and on individual players.

So essentially the argument against Cammalleri can be summed up in one word -- Injuries. Okay well I’d just like to remind you that DESPITE missing 20 games, he was STILL 5th on the team in TOTAL points. I’m sorry for punctuating and capitalizing like a Trump tweet, but I find it ridiculous the amount of hate Cammalleri gets in spite of producing. That’s across situations too — Total, 5v5, first points only, zone-adjusted, etc. A better estimate of total impact over the season adjusted for position would probably be point shares where he is 10th — falling behind 3 defenders and both goalies. And, granted, being paid 5th most and performing 10th best is not great, but it’s no Greek tragedy.

Vegas may not choose him because of his age. But if they do, we are not a better team without him. And it’s time people acknowledge that.