It was a surprise to many when Mike Cammalleri chose to sign with New Jersey – and when the Devils chose to sign him. For both parties, the deal was about faith.
At the risk of sounding blasphemous, Mike Cammalleri’s deal with the Devils was all about faith. He chose the team that believed in him most and the team he believed in most.
Calgary fans were disappointed but not surprised when he left in free agency after a resurgent 26-goal campaign. After all, team president Brian Burke retained Cammalleri’s expiring contract at the trade deadline. Burke tried to deal his veteran, but he felt the offers weren’t good enough. He decided to risk losing Cammalleri for nothing and stated his desire to keep him.
Burke and new GM Brad Treliving made offers this summer to Cammalleri for a long-term pact, but they couldn’t compete with what Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils tabled: five years and $25 million for a 32-year-old who’s missed 15 or more games in four of his past five seasons and is six years removed from his best numbers.
That didn’t matter to Lamoriello, who says he followed and admired Cammalleri’s game all the way back to the University of Michigan.
“He played with an edge and had results,” Lamoriello said. “He’s very diligent and he competes. When you see that in a player, it naturally sticks out. When we were looking at the potential free agencies and the type of player we needed, we felt we needed a scorer. Mike stood right out, and he was one of the top players we looked at, if not the top player.”
The money and especially the term were a huge vote of confidence to Cammalleri, who says the courtship lasted longer than the free agent negotiating period. His best years are behind him, but he remains a useful scorer who can play among the top six forwards. The Devils are taking a leap of faith on him, but it works both ways.
“What attracted me to the Devils was the success they’ve had, the template, the way they do things,” Cammalleri said. “I have a belief in how things are done that leads to successes.”
The Devils haven’t personified success in recent seasons, missing the playoffs twice in a row. But Cammalleri believes they can right the ship. That the Devils ranked fourth in the NHL in Corsi Close, and that they were a bit unlucky losing all 13 shootouts last season, suggests he’s right. New Jersey only missed the playoffs by five points.
For Lamoriello and the Devils, the contract isn’t as risky as it looks on paper, because they’re not demanding a 30-goal effort for it to be worthwhile. They love Cammalleri’s mind – and mouth – as much as they love his game.
“When I had a chance to sit down and talk to him, I couldn’t be more impressed with what his thoughts were, his knowledge of the game and the questions he asked,” Lamoriello said. “It was a face-to-face meeting, and you can accomplish a lot in a short period of time when that transpires.”
Lamoriello says “there’s no question” the Devils view Cammalleri as a leader, and they believe he was the strongest voice in the Flames dressing room, even if he didn’t wear the ‘C.’ It’s no stretch to call Cammalleri a human megaphone. He’s among the game’s most quotable players, known to speak his mind and also to toss a joke in here and there. He doesn’t disappoint when asked if he’s checked out his new home state, including the Jersey Shore.
“Is that because I’m Italian?” Cammalleri said. “The Jersey Shore? Are you stereotyping me? Just wondering.”
Kidding aside, he’s visited the Garden State and found a house for his family. With that out of the way, he can prepare to reward Lamoriello’s trust. And he can dream about playing with Jaromir Jagr. Lamoriello calls the idea a “coaching decision,” but he can see Cammalleri sliding to the left wing to suit up with Jagr and Travis Zajac.
“He’s one of the greatest legends of our game of all-time,” Cammalleri said. “He’s an iconic sports figure. To play on the same team as him will be a unique and special experience.”
If it’s on the same line, Cammalleri will surely have a lot more to say about it.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin