They stayed for an extra day in the City of Angels and not just because the weather in Alberta was frightful. The Calgary Flames had their fathers accompany them on their California road trip and part of the fun involved a Sunday excursion to golf courses or beaches for a lot of decompressing.
It was a welcome diversion, according to Mike Cammalleri, for an NHL team that hasn’t had a lot of fun reasons to smile of late. After a promising start, the bottom fell out on a rebuilding squad big on try and work ethic, but missing a lot in the experience and talent departments.
One notable exception has been the aforementioned Cammalleri, and if you were watching last Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, it was Cammalleri that put the finishing touches on a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, scoring the winning goal in the final minute of regulation, with his dad watching from high up in the Staples Center.
The cameras caught his father excitedly declaring the game over at that point, and Cammalleri was a bundle of enthusiastic energy when CBC analyst Elliotte Friedman showed him the replay of his dad’s reaction during a postgame interview.
Now 31 and in his 11th NHL season, Cammalleri was one of the few veterans to stick around the Flames a year after a purge in which four of their most experienced and capable players left for various reasons – Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
Part of the reason was contract. Earning $7-million (U.S.) this season on an expiring deal in a year when the NHL salary cap shrank to $64.3-million, Cammalleri’s contract was unattractive in the off-season, even if he was the highest-scoring holdover on the team (32 points in 44 games).
And part of it was the Flames actually needed a handful of veterans to set an example for the youngsters inserted into their lineup.
And it was all going okay, too, until a broken ankle suffered by blueliner/team captain Mark Giordano, who was playing brilliantly at the time, started a slow and steady decline. Then, they lost their second-best defenceman, Dennis Wideman, to a fractured hand.
Already 12 points out of a playoff spot, the Flames’ most realistic goal is holding off the Edmonton Oilers for sixth place in the Pacific Division.
In the meantime, if Cammalleri continues to play well, he will be an interesting commodity for the Flames to dangle at the trading deadline. He is a proven scorer, with an exceptional 2010 postseason (with the Montreal Canadiens) on his résumé, when he led the NHL goal scoring with 13 in 19 games. Those sorts of players tend to command significant interest when teams start looking to add reinforcements for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Cammalleri continues to soldier along.
“I try to keep things in perspective and stay in the present,” he said in an interview. “I’d be lying if I would say, at this point, when you’re at the peak of your career, you want to be competing and winning in a more frequent fashion.
“Sometimes, frustration creeps in, yes, but we have good leadership as far as coaching and peers who are in there with you. I guess the job – to get better and to be part of something greater than yourself – keeps me where I want to be. I’m very appreciative to be able to do what I do for a living.”
Calgary head coach Bob Hartley says Cammalleri has been a pure professional for the rebuilding Flames, noting: “He leads by example – the way he works in the gym, the way he prepares, the way he practices. He’s a great communicator, so for the [Sean] Monahans and all those young players, to watch him and to be able to listen to him, he’s been great. From the first day I got to Calgary, I considered Cammy as a very important player in our lineup.”
The Flames may offer him a contract extension to see if he’s interested in staying around to be part of the rebuild. More likely though, the gig may change later this season, if he keeps up this scoring pace (11 goals in 20 games).
“That’s the other thing,” Cammalleri said. “As a guy who’s been around for a while now, you realize how quickly things change and how decisions by people who control your fate can change on an hourly and daily basis. So there’s nothing I can do but play the game and work on getting better and better.”
Follow me on Twitter: @eduhatschek
Get all the latest Globe and Mail hockey coverage on Twitter: @globehockey