Tag Archives: cammalleri

2014: See Ya

On the whole, 2014 was a good year. Rather than making a semi-structured list, I found myself thinking about two extremes — things that were absolutely delightful, and things that gave me pause for 2015.

A Year of Live Music: Four Phish shows in three states, with four newbies in tow. Animals as Leaders twice in small venues. Tony Levin with both King Crimson and Stickmen, at opposite ends of the venue spectrum. Joe Bonamassa at his best; Dream Theater at their most average but still quite good; Flux Forteana at a downtown Boston pub. Also subscribed to Concert Vault, featuring the best of “Bill Graham Presents”, which has reinforced my love of (recorded) live music.

A Year of Travel: Four visits to Prague, three to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem, a return to Seattle after 30 years, only one trip to the Bay Area, a first visit to Curacao. Discovering local food in each city (especially Seattle!) was as much fun as returning to favorite haunts. Celebrated my 52nd birthday in the oldest city in recorded history, with good friends. Prague is a new favorite place to visit and work.

A Year of Waning Fandom: For some reason professional sports just didn’t capture my interest this year. The Yankees were lukewarm from April til September; the Devils are wallowing in middle age and directionless; I have ignored professional basketball since the Nets moved out of the Meadowlands. Even my beloved Tigers failed to show on the ice or finish on the hardwood. On the other hand, youth hockey is alive and well, and I have a great group of 6 year olds who get up for 7:00 am games at outdoor rinks. A visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame taught me things about our family’s sports allegiances that I had never known.

A Year of Small Miracles: I survived a fairly bad car accident, mostly through the benefit of seat belts, air bags, and a fraction of a second. One of my fellow hockey coaches beat his leukemia into remission. The Devils signed one of my favorite players whom I’ve wished to see in the tail and horns for years (Mike Cammalleri) and then proceeded to play non-miraculous hockey. I caught a 40-pound rooster fish at the end of two days of completely quiet sport fishing.

For all of the good and positive, there were some decidedly strange moments. We stayed at the Revel in Atlantic City during the last week it was open, and then watched a third of the city’s casinos financially implode. I found myself worrying about our “adopted” Israeli daughter, when she called quite late at night during her Army service. While giving a ride to some fellow Phans for the Mann Center shows, I got the sense that if you’re in your mid-20s, it’s a hard time to be financially independent. And with the number of security events (both large scale and more personal, like fraudulent credit card charges) I think we’re looking at a year calling for more diligence and caution in all electronic interactions.

The New New Devils

The last two seasons were not kind to Devils fans. After starting the 12-13 campaign in a nosedive, only to pull up with a glimmer of playoff hope before skidding off the end of the season’s runway, 13-14 wasn’t much better: inconsistent play, lack of scoring, sometimes muddled defense and an overall lack of coherence. I was hoping the ownership change would shake things up, and based on the first day of free agency, I am insanely thrilled I renewed the season tickets this year.

Martin Havlat is not a young gun, but he brings a great chemistry with Elias and that’s likely to translate into a better locker room environment. Put him in the right system with the right coach and he’ll score goals, move the puck, and create excitement. Think Jagr five years ago, and then add Jagr and Elias to the mix, and you smile.

I’m also impressed that the Devils didn’t bend and sign Brodeur. I sincerely, honestly, thoroughly hope that Marty decides to retire, rather than suffer through the ignominy of a few weeks of free agency. If you don’t have a deal early on, you’re not getting a deal, and if he waits for an early season injury and comes back to the game after an extended hiatus, it won’t be pretty for anyone. Marty is one of the all-time best, his number should be raised to the rafters amidst much fan adulation and maybe some more Elias sniffles, and that’s that. I also see this as a sign that the Devils ownership is committed to building a team, rather than replaying historical cards that held value years ago.

Then there’s one of my favorite players: Mike Cammalleri. His Canadiens player shirt was the first bit of non-Devils team wear I purchased. He’s tough, gritty, energetic, funny, and a nice guy to boot (yes, I’ve met him, and he impressed the daylights out of me by giving his father a hug before he greeted any other guests including his girlfriend). Think David Clarkson but with significantly better hands and speed. Before any criticizes his two tours through Calgary, note that the Flames were unable to produce much with Jarome Iginla either. Put Cammalleri on a line with Elias at center and you’ll see some of those fancy passing plays turn into goals. Like Gionta, he plays bigger than he is, and every time he played at the Rock, he was on the scoresheet. Maybe the place likes him already.

Free agents have a tantalizing effect on fans: they look shiny, exciting and new, and as the season unfolds you see exactly what your ticket, food and parking dollars are funding. A healthy and head-intact Ryan Clowe, a Michael Ryder with someone who can feed him the puck, and a feisty Cammalleri reshape this team with lots of potential energy – if it produces chemistry, fun, and some wins, we can still be cheering loudly for hockey in May.

Devils’ End

It’s just about four weeks since the Devils’ season ended and I’m finally rational enough to write rationally about it. I think this was the most uneventful, non-season in the decade I’ve been a season ticket holder, and therein lies the problem.

Lou signed Ilya Kovalchuk, but Lemaire couldn’t figure out how and when to manage him, and how and when to let him freelance, so an opportunity was wasted.

When veteran players were hurt (Clarkson, Martin, Elias) the young guns from Lowell played well, and the team had a fine November. The fire and energy seemed to disappear after Christmas. In particular, Paul Martin looked like he was afraid of contact, puck control, speed, and possibly the groundhog’s shadow after he returned. Disappointing, and you wonder what the deeper root causes are for such a tail-off in performance.

Whatever happened between White and Langenbrunner at the start of the season didn’t do much for White. I’ve never seen a veteran defenseman stand around, miss his man, and generally be useless in defensive situations. And then Lemaire put him in front of the net on the power play, which sums up Lemaire’s attempts at coaching this team. During the last game versus the Flyers, the Devils spent an entire power play passing the puck along the perimeter, without anyone moving to create space, or create time to a shooting lane to open up. When someone with a USA Hockey Level 2 coaching card recognizes this problem, you have a huge problem on both sides of the bench.

After the first of the year, the Devils just looked like they were mailing it in. Inconsistent play, random defense, and the constant juggling of lines and player head games were disgraceful. You can’t blame just the coach or the GM or the players; it’s a combined team effort from the front office to the guy who drives the Zamboni on the practice surface. Everyone has to want to win, and has to work like that every single day. Perhaps the Devils have just become complacent; playoff apperances and division titles are nice and everyone collects paychecks with a reasonable summer vacation. Look at what Mike Cammalleri has done in Montreal, where he came in with a great attitude, a love for the game and the city, and pissed off at some previous employers: They’re in the Conference Finals and Cams is leading goal-scorer in the playoffs. That’s what wanting to win does.

The fans don’t like this. The players shouldn’t like this. And I’m pretty sure that the Devils money-losing season means that the ownership doesn’t like this. I’m expecting wholesale shakeups in the off season, and the signings of Tedenby and Josefson are great starts. What they lack is a coach that will let the captain lead the team, and an intimidating presence like Stevens, and some mutual trust between players, coaches, and leadership. We can only hope that we’re able to see beyond our current, collective impression of the Devils and let the youngsters lead the way to an improved state.

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Playoff Minion

Here’s a statistic you won’t hear Chico Resch cough up on a break in play: There are three Jewish players on three different teams in the playoffs for what may be the first time in NHL history. Jeff Halpern (Kings), Mathieu Schneider (Coyotes) and Mike Cammalleri (Canadiens) are all vying for a chance to make kiddish in the Stanley Cup.

Cammalleri and Schneider were teammates on the LA Kings, but by the time Cammalleri arrived in 02-03, the Kings were no longer a regular playoff team. Halpern was a regular playoff player with the Capitals, but went to the Stars in 2006 as the Kings sank into high draft pick territory. Halpern was traded from the Stars to the Lightning, so while Schneider was back in the playoffs with the Red Wings, he was alone in counting the omer on off days.

Not only are there three Jewish guys skating, but I believe this accounts for all active Jewish players in the NHL (discounting claims that Eric Nystrom is Jewish). Cammalleri sniped the first goal of the Habs-Caps game tonight; Schneider was a scratch for Phoenix, and right now Halpern is sitting in the box in the Kings-Canucks game. Not exactly a minion, but something to write home about.

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Pain and No Gain

I haven’t written about the Devils since mid-November because frankly, there wasn’t much to write about through the end of 2009. They were playing well, scoring goals, coming up big on defense, and Niclas Bergfors was making a bid for the Calder Trophy. A short stint as the best team in the NHL, a nice lead in the Eastern Conference, and there was much to celebrate as we came up on New Year’s Eve. Then the wheels fell off.

The Devils are 6-7 since December 31st, and are angling for the middle of the Eastern Conference pack. It’s not just one losing streak or a few bad games — it’s an entire 4-week period of inconsistent, low-scoring, badly played hockey. And as a fan, this is ugly and distressing. Of course, it’s also about the time the Devils ask us to pony up for playoff tickets. Advice to Lou: win a few games before sending bills, or your aren’t selling out the playoffs this year either.

Right now the Devils are simply painful to watch. They don’t move the puck well, their defense is shoddy on a good night, they aren’t scoring goals, and the power play has ceased to exist. They’re getting shut out (twice in this span). Half of their goals seem to come on long feeds for breakaways or semi-breaks, which feels more like pond hockey than the NHL. One power play goal in nearly an entire game of power play time is pathetic – and that goal was more of an errant pass by Parise that happened to rattle into the net. Getting beaten to every loose puck, and making passes that So it’s time to write about this mess of a team — or lack of a team — because it’s both cathartic and because this seems to happen once every season.

What’s wrong?

Injuries: Elias, Martin, Clarkson. Zubrus is back. Oduya hasn’t quite been the same end to end rushing guy since he got hurt.

Trepidation: Way too much passing, not enough shooting. Too much thinking, not enough driving to the net. I think you hit a point when things are running badly that you worry more about not making mistakes rather than making something happen. Failing to create opportunity is the first problem. How many passes miss their target, have no target, or are intercepted by an opposing player in the slot?

Leadership: Hate to say it, but where are the reports of a team meeting? Of the team doing something without Lemaire in the room, of the captains sitting with the team and airing out whatever it is? Seeing Langenbrunner get angry and skate hard is encouraging; but this has to carry over to the guys who have the “A” on their jerseys as well.

Defense: Colin White is making dumb plays, or no plays, and when he’s on the ice with Mottau they seem to amplify each other’s bad choices. The most egregious case here was in the Montreal game over the weekend when there were three red jerseys behind the Devils’ net, while Cammalleri was eating a sandwich in the slot. Worse than basic coverage, the defense isn’t starting the puck out of the zone, and there are more times per game than you can count where the Devils get pushed back in on a forecheck because the puck doesn’t make it through the neutral zone. I’d even argue that the breakout schemes the Devils have been using through the first half of the year were well-scouted and now well-checked by their opponents. It’s only getting harder from here, not easier.

Rookie disappearance: I was expecting big things out of Bergfors, Corrente, Zharkov, Halischuk. Bergfors looked great early in the year, and now he’s just vaporized. Zharkov had his moments and now can’t produce. Halischuk is just gone. Yes, it’s unfair to ask rookies to make up for veteran players with solid locker room personalities, but absolutely no contribution from the new kids is worrisome.

This streak of ugliness, like all things, will pass. But I think the Devils need a wake-up call; a specific action and point of focus that will rally them through the Olympic break and into the last third of the season. I can’t watch the hockey equivalent of the Mets any more.
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NHL Center Ice Package: I’m Sold

I broke down and ordered the NHL Center Ice package tonight. It was actually a Facebook conversation with a co-worker that convinced me it was worth the $172 for the next six months, or as he put it, less than the cost of going to two games. My interest started with a sincere interest in seeing Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez take on the Bruins tonight. What I got was a lingering taste of the seven-plus years Mrs. Snowman and I spent in the Boston suburbs, channeling NESN on a 17-inch TV. It’s still NESN carrying the Bruins home game, but it’s in HD — a little bit of old school Boston sports mixed with geographic diversity. Given that all of the out of market games are redirections of local coverage, I’m looking forward to getting to know the broadcast voices of the Lightning, Canadiens, Ducks, Hawks and perhaps the Flyers, as I follow some brand name as well as lesser-known but fun to watch players (Halpern, Powe and Parros, along with Madden, Toews, Gomez, Cammalleri and Gionta).

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Ou Sonts Les Habitants?

OK, my French is horrendous, my high school French teacher wants to rescind the award that she gave me upon graduation for “excellence in studies” and L’Academie Francaise is going to put a contract out on my tongue. Quelle frommage.

I don’t get the hockey writer’s negative sentiment about the Canadiens this season. Sure, goaltending is a question mark, but as Scott Clemmenson showed last season, scoring goals and playing as a team outweighs having a Vezina in the cabinet. Their top line of Gomez, Cammalleri and Gionta is far from the biggest in the NHL but it’s going to put up a lot of goals. If nothing else, they win the diversity award for having a Jewish guy with an Italian surname (yes, Cammalleri is a menorah man) and a Latino turning Francophone.

I think the Bruins-Canadiens games are going to return to the all-out, end to end, blood lust grudge matches of years ago. And those games may end up deciding who wins the Northeast Conference. I’m not a hockey writer, nor do I play one on TV or even on this blog, but I think the conventional wisdom is neither when it comes to the Habs this year.

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Organic vs Inorganic Growth

The Hockey News has a great video interview with Mike Cammalleri, newest Canadien and likely linemate of Gionta and Gomez. He addresses his performance in Calgary as a function of having Iginla on his line, what life will be like on the under-six-foot line, and how the Canadiens will find their identity. The Habs are a different team this year, growing inorganically: Gainey went shopping and brought home a mole of free agents.

Closer to home, the Devils haven’t done much on the buying front. They’re going to (have to) grow organically, based on player development and draft picks. Tom Guilitti rates the Devils prospects at this summer’s rookie camp, and I get the feeling that it might take a season or two for this strategy to pay off. Signing Zajac to a 4-year deal was a strong step; rather than having to negotiate again in a season or two (arbitration decisions cover at most two years), he’s locked up in the middle for the near term. But I still have questions about who will be skating with Elias, and who’s minding the blueline.

But I’ll also go out on a limb: I don’t think the Devils have signed any spectacular free agents this decade. They’ve made some outstanding trades: Lagenbrunner, Friesen, and Mogilny (back in 2000; he was instrumental in winning the Cup that year). Have trades become passe due to the salary cap, since GMs are forced to discount the skills they’ll receive by current and future costs of keeping those players? If so, the smarter move is to remain well under the cap at the beginning of the season, and pick up single piece parts along the way as the value equation changes. Again, I think of the Mogilny trade in 2000.

I’ll go even further: it’s hard to find evidence of big free agent signings radically changing a team’s trajectory over the course of an entire season. One or two players may add a critical leadership or skill element – Sergei Gonchar in Pittsburgh or Cammalleri in Calgary last season. But look at Gomez in New York, or even Briere in Philadelphia – success on those teams was driven more by goaltending and young prospects than by marquee players picked up on the open market. Any free agent signing has to first pass the financial sniff test, but more important is the smell of the resulting team chemistry. Ask your neighborhood beaker-head: bad inorganic chemistry really stinks (think rotten eggs).

Free Agency Bubble in Montreal

Imagine this scenario: you buy a big house, because the market is hot and you had a good year over the past twelve months. And a year or two later, your income is down, the overall housing market is down, and you’re saddled with those mortgage and tax payments, and start looking for places to scrimp. Sound familiar? I think Bob Gainey is going to be in that position next year. The NHL’s salary cap barely budged this year, but it’s an historical measure — it reflects last year’s financials, not the coming year’s anticipated revenue streams. As Lou has pointed out, and others have weighed in, next year’s NHL salary cap is likely to be lower. I know I’m paying 55% of what I paid the last two seasons for my 09-10 Devils season ticket share. Multiply that across the league, mix thoroughly with an ugly economy, and spin with the spinning of free agency that has made player jersey replicas a bad short-term investment, and cap economics becomes a bin-packing problem of the first order next year.

All that said, I’m eager to see how things play out avec les habitants. They picked up a $7M+ contract on Gomez (5′ 11″), added $6M a year for Cammalleri (5′ 9″) and another $5M for Gionta (5′ 7″), plus equally large deals on Spacek and Gill. That means the starting five skaters will soak up about half of the salary cap, and Montreal will skate one of the shortest and most likely most expensive per linear foot top lines in the NHL. I’m not dinging any of the players; I think they all got good deals or are sticking to deals that allowed them to be traded (viz, Gomez, pay attention, Heatley).

I’m going to miss Brian Gionta – scrappy, well-spoken, creative, and a role model for hard work on and off the ice. I think Gomez might thrive in Montreal, away from what was effectively a “stick it, Lou” move to the Rangers, and Cammalleri showed he changes longitude and latitude well and with outstanding production. But I keep reflecting on the 1997 Marlins – brought together to win a championship, and then scattered by financial and market forces. I hope the free agency bubble floats Montreal in the next season, because Gainey has just taken out a big mortgage on their future.

The Other Kippy

Kippy, the Flames goalie with a goofy nickname, has given up 3 goals on 9 shots tonight. One was on a power play and one was a misdirection that fooled all three Flames pretending to occupy the slot, but this isn’t good for those of us who wanted to see Mike Cammalleri do his thing late into May.

There are two characters nicknamed Kippy. One is a goalie, the other is a Hebrew-speaking, 5-foot tall porcupine. Tell me which is more whacked.