It’s not possible for an inanimate object to look forlorn, but the Mike Cammalleri stuffed dolls stacked atop a display in the Montreal Canadiens’ team store do a passable impression.
At the Canadiens’ practice facility in suburban Montreal, it didn’t take long for the HabsZone shop’s clerks to slap a 50-per-cent discount on all T-shirts and jerseys featuring the team’s erstwhile No. 13.
How many days it will take to peel Cammalleri’s eight-storey likeness off the side of the Bell Centre is another question.
But the NHL’s big trading wheel keeps on turning, and so it was that the team got on with the business of moving on after its second-highest-salaried player was dealt to the Calgary Flames during Thursday’s game in Boston.
The Habs held a short practice on Friday, but it was too early for René Bourque, the man acquired in exchange for Cammalleri, to be in attendance.
Not that he’s an unknown quantity in the Habs’ room.
“I played with him in the minors during the lockout year, he’s a big, fast guy with a really hard shot … and he’s not afraid to mix it up,” said winger Travis Moen, who, like Bourque, got his start in the Chicago Blackhawks’ organization.
The 6-foot-2, 211-pound Bourque’s arrival also heralds a philosophical shift within the organization, whose 2009 off-season overhaul saw several under-sized skill players brought into the fold – Cammalleri among them.
Winger Mathieu Darche pointed out size wasn’t an impediment in the Habs’ 2010 conference final run – during which Cammalleri was a major contributor – but said of Bourque: “He’s a big man, he’s willing to pay the price, I know that from playing against him. … Now we move forward, I’m sure he’ll be able to help us.”
In the immediate aftermath of the trade, Montreal general manager Pierre Gauthier said he wants to make his team bigger up front to deal with the exigencies of today’s NHL where most goals are scored in tight, a seeming repudiation of the approach he and predecessor Bob Gainey used to build the current squad.
Interim Habs coach Randy Cunneyworth echoed that statement when asked if the NHL is a big man’s league first and foremost.
“I think it’s always been a tough game, with our group we want to play a more gritty style to balance our speed and two-way ability. … He’s a player who will be welcome among our group. We feel this is a deal that has helped our team immediately,” he said, adding he wants the team to be “tenacious on the puck.”
Cunneyworth, whose appointment drew fire because of his inability to speak French, grinned when asked about Bourque’s joking remark that, “I might be in trouble, too.”
“I saw that,” he said with a broad smile.
Though the 30-year-old Bourque has four years left on his six-year, $20-million (all currency U.S.) contract, it’s a far more cap-friendly deal than Cammalleri’s five-year, $30-million pact.
Bourque’s goal-scoring average is slightly higher than Cammalleri’s, whose offensive ceiling is admittedly higher, but both have struggled with consistency, although the cap room created by the deal gives Gauthier the freedom to add more bulk.
Given Bourque is serving a five-game suspension for elbowing, he’ll have to wait until Sunday to make his Habs debut – he will wear No. 27, and has been given Cammalleri’s old stall in the dressing room.
Cunneyworth said on Friday he didn’t learn of the decision to trade Cammalleri, a fan favourite whose form has dipped this season, until the second-period intermission of a game the Habs trailed 1-0.
He brushed aside suggestions that depriving the squad of an offensive-minded player, even a struggling one, in a close game hampered the Canadiens’ chances to come back.
“We have a lot of guys that can win us hockey games,” he said.
Cunneyworth also said the raging controversy surrounding Cammalleri’s allusions to the Habs having a “losing attitude” barely 24 hours before being moved has been “a little bit overblown.”
“He’s passionate about his game, he wanted to make a difference, and we commend him on that. That’s what we want, guys who care . . . everybody has a different way of coming out and expressing themselves, I don’t have a problem with that,” he said. “I don’t think he chose his words as carefully as maybe he could have, but I think there was more read into it.”
A teammate’s departure is apparently no reason for a settling of accounts, even if it has emerged Cammalleri’s personality was sometimes a difficult fit in the Habs’ room.
No player criticized the slumping winger publicly, and even privately, players were diplomatic - “one of that stuff matters anymore,” said one.
“He wasn’t a problem,” added another.
Winger Max Pacioretty, who like Cammalleri attended the University of Michigan, said he learned a lot from his fellow Wolverines alumnus.
“Mike was a really good guy . . . these things happen, it’s a business, people come and go, there’s a lot of good guys in here to make up for the loss, but he definitely will be missed,” Pacioretty said.