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Montreal Canadiens' Michael Cammalleri reacts after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period of their NHL hockey game in San Jose, California December 1, 2011. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS/ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS)
Montreal Canadiens' Michael Cammalleri reacts after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period of their NHL hockey game in San Jose, California December 1, 2011. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS/ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS)

David Shoalts

Cammalleri trade proves the truth will set you free Add to ...

Mike Cammalleri is the latest to prove that in the NHL the truth will set you free.

He was quickly traded by the Montreal Canadiens to the Calgary Flames on Thursday night after questioning the commitment of his peers a day earlier.

It is a cardinal sin, even if you work for an outfit as dysfunctional as the Montreal Canadiens, to be seen as calling your team a bunch of losers. There may be some dispute about exactly how severe Cammalleri’s remarks were on Wednesday, when he said the Canadiens had a “losing mentality,” but there is no question he crossed the line in the eyes of his employers and some of his teammates.

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So it was no surprise Cammalleri became the latest flash point in what may be the strangest season ever for a team that is no stranger to the bizarre when it is losing. Cammalleri was pulled out of the Canadiens’ 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins after the second period Thursday and sent back to the team’s hotel. Then Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier informed Cammalleri he was traded back to his old team, the Flames.

Not even coaches are immune to such retribution for this kind of candour. On the eve of Game 4 in the 1997 Stanley Cup final, with the Detroit Red Wings holding a 3-0 lead in the series, Philadelphia Flyers head coach Terry Murray mused that his players were “in a choking situation.” The Flyers lost again to let the Red Wings sweep the series and Murray was fired.

Even when it is obvious there are serious problems in the dressing room, teams will not tolerate anyone airing the dirty linen in public. The dressing room balance can be quite a delicate thing. No one is supposed to poke around with it.

Look no further than Pittsburgh, where the Penguins are finally crumbling under the weight of so many injuries a little more than a year after Sidney Crosby suffered the concussion that keeps him out of the lineup to this day. Even his desire to play is being questioned by some of his own (anonymous) teammates, as noted by Dejan Kovacevic in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

So think how bad it must be with the Canadiens, who are falling flat in front of the most passionate fans in hockey, fans who are stoked every day by a merciless media machine that operates in two languages.

Before Cammalleri sealed his fate, the team already saw enough craziness to last most teams two seasons let alone one. Unlike Cammalleri, who got two periods for his swan song, assistant coach Perry Pearn was sacked just before a game and offered up as a scapegoat for the Habs’ growing woes. Then head coach Jacques Martin walked the plank last month, with the new coach, Randy Cunneyworth, walking into a media firestorm because he is not fluent in French. The long list of injuries that plays into the Canadiens’ futility is almost a side issue.

The way Cammalleri’s musings played out in the media shows just how volatile the atmosphere around the Canadiens can be. After Cammalleri spoke to a group of reporters, two of them lingered for more conversation. He spoke to them in English and his comments were translated into French, where they appeared on the web site of RDS, the French television network.

RDS’s corporate sibling, TSN, translated the comments back into English for its own website. On TSN.ca, Cammalleri was quoted as saying, “We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it’s no wonder why we lose.”

Even if that was not an accurate translation, there was no argument that Cammalleri said the Canadiens have “a losing mentality.”

Some suggest Cammalleri made those remarks knowing they would get him traded. Perhaps. He was not Cunneyworth’s cup of tea, as evidenced by the decline in Cammalleri’s ice time, which he joked about in the same interview.

Presiding over all this is the hapless Gauthier. True to form, he tried to say Cammelleri’s trade had nothing to do with him questioning the dedication of the team. That whopper lasted as long as it took to get hold of Flames GM Jay Feaster. He agreed trade talks had been held before Cammalleri’s outburst on Wednesday. But when the other key figure in the deal, Flames forward Rene Bourque, was suspended by the NHL on Jan. 4, the talks broke off.

“From a timing perspective, we hadn’t spoken since right before the Bourque suspension,” Feaster said. “Whether that was something that prompted it from Pierre’s perspective, I don’t know.”

Cammalleri, 29, was once a 39-goal scorer for the Flames and played a key role in the Canadiens’ run to the Eastern Conference final in 2010. Since the other key figure in the trade, Bourque, does not have easily comparable statistics and comes with his own reputation as an under-achiever, it is clear Gauthier was an especially motivated seller.

His own job is hanging in the balance. The only thing that will save him from the series of mistakes he’s committed in the nearly two years since that appearance in the Eastern final is a good long playoff run.

At this point, that is a long, long way away.

Follow on Twitter: @dshoalts

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