Cammalleri best playoff bet at deadline

Cammalleri has 29 points in his past 26 playoff games. CP Photo

More than most of its recent predecessors, the 2014 NHL trade deadline promises a favourable ratio of bang to bluster. A handful of front-line NHLers are virtual locks to be dealt by the middle of next week, and players like Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson all have the potential to make an impact down the stretch and into the playoffs.

But of all the players expected to have new surroundings in the coming days, nobody has set a better recent playoff precedent than Mike Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames.

A combination of factors has led to Cammalleri slightly slipping off the radar of many hockey fans. First and foremost, he’s often been literally out of sight thanks to an inability to stay healthy. The last time Cammalleri played 80 games in an NHL season was 2008–09, during his first stop in Cowtown. He missed significant chunks of seasons during his two-and-half years with the Montreal Canadiens and, after playing 44 of 48 games last year, he’s been slowed by a hand injury and a concussion in the current campaign.

The other thing that’s led to Cammalleri slipping in the hockey consciousness is the fact Calgary has been a dreadful outfit since his second tour of duty with the club began just over two years ago. The dealing of Jarome Iginla last spring, the arrival of Brian Burke as president of hockey operations in the summer and the removal of Jay Feaster from the GM’s chair this season have dominated the headlines in southern Alberta, as the Flames try to remodel a floundering franchise.

But if anyone needs a refresher on Cammalleri and his abilities, look no further than his two most recent trips to the playoffs. In 2010, the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens managed to make their way to the Eastern Conference final, with most of the accolades reserved for the spectacular goaltending of Jaroslav Halak. That made it easy to overlook the heroics of Cammalleri, who scored 13 goals in 19 games. In fact, his total led all goal-scorers during the post-season, despite the fact Montreal failed to make the Stanley Cup final.

The next season, another underdog Habs team pushed the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins to overtime of game seven in the first round. Cammalleri was huge in the series, netting three goals and 10 points. Tally it up and the 31-year-old has exactly 29 points in his past 26 playoff outings.

Cammalleri is a crafty scorer who has the versatility to play both wing and centre. His quick, lethal one-timer provides a menacing dimension to any power play and he’s equally capable of setting up brilliant plays. While his five-foot-nine frame doesn’t allow him to bowl opponents over, Cammalleri has ample confidence and gumption–which is probably why he’s thrived during the most pressure-packed time of year.

While Burke, the Flames’ acting GM, isn’t going to give Cammalleri away (and in fact, offered him a contract extension earlier this week most expect to go unsigned), you have to think the asking price is less than what the Isles will attach to Vanek. Moulson, another noted sniper who will be on the move, will also come cheaper than Vanek, but has just six post-season games on his resumé and lacks the same overall pedigree that Cammalleri brings. That’s something for an offence-starved team–say, the Los Angeles Kings, who drafted Cammalleri in 2001–to think about.

While Burke’s contract offer is surely worth mulling, chances are Cammalleri is more anxious to chase the Cup ring he doesn’t have than spend the third act of his NHL career in a rebuild. Assuming that’s the case, his new employer will be banking on Cammalleri to jog the memory of anybody who’s lost track of exactly what kind of player he can be.

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