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What’s Broken (part 4b): Kings should never have traded Mike Cammalleri

[This is part 4b of a multi-post analysis of “what ails the Kings.” If you haven’t read the previous posts, understand that each “part” is an attempt to lay the blame (if there is any blame) in a different place. Part 1 set the table; part 2 blamed the captains; part 3 blamed the coaches; part 4a (and 4b) blamed the GM.]

In this chapter, we’re going to pursue the narrative of an “alternate history.” In this version of Kings history, in June, 2008, the Kings do not trade Mike Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames.

What’s the point?

It occurs to me (because everyone has been talking about it) that the Kings’ recent problems come down to the absence of a sniper, a year-long power-play drought and a lack of team speed. Every once in a while you see someone comment that the Kings need Cammalleri’s scoring, and I am quick to point out why he was dealt. (1) He wanted so much money that it would have thrown the entire cap structure off, not that season, but years down the road (i.e. now), because all the contracts that followed would use Cammalleri’s contract as a benchmark; and (2) instead of the Kings logo tattooed on his ass, he had a self-portrait.

I was strongly in favor of this trade at the time and I still am. If I was mildly disappointed in the return, I also realized that Lombardi was going not going to get top dollar for a player everyone on the planet knew had to be traded. Probably, everyone in Kings-land would have dubbed Lombardi a genius had he selected Tyler Myers with the pick he packaged the Calgary pick (and the Dallas pick from the Norstrom deal) to get. But he traded down and took Colten Teubert, who he flipped (three years later) for Dustin Penner, which is ironic, or at least symmetrical, as we are now (we being me in this exercise) considering what the repercussions of not trading Cammalleri would have been.

With that, let’s turn back the clock. It’s July 5, 2007, the day that RFA Cammalleri, unhappy with the Kings’ reported offer of $2.6MM per season, filed for arbitration, seeking $6MM/year. A month later, the Kings would prevail in arbitration. Cammalleri was awarded $3.1 and $3.6MM for the following two seasons, after which he would be a UFA and free to seek his $6MM. Lombardi traded him a year later to Calgary, and a year after that, Cammalleri signed a five-year deal with Montreal for $6MM per year.

But all that is what really happened.  What if this happened instead:

Cammalleri Sets the Benchmark with RFA Contract

  • July 5, 2007 — The Kings and Mike Cammalleri agree on a five year deal, with an annual cap hit of $5MM.
  • October, 2007 — Dustin Brown wants Cammalleri-type money, does not sign an extension, but opts to wait it out.
  • April, 2008 — Brown’s season is (as in reality) substantially better than Cammalleri’s. He gets his extension at $5MM for five years.
  • June, 2008 — The Kings pick 28th instead of 11th (because they don’t trade Cammalleri; which also means Lombardi is not able to trade up to snag Colten Teubert) and they use the pick on Viatcheslav Voynov (instead of using the 32nd pick on VV). The second round pick (32), Lombardi uses to select the best available big tree from the WHL, Travis Hamonic.
  • September, 2008 — Kopitar, like Brown, decides to wait on signing an extension. This adds a certain amount of tension to the already distracting negotiations with Patrick O’Sullivan, who, having had a better season than Cammalleri, believes he too is deserving of a Cammy-sized** deal.
  • September, 2008 — Lombardi, who in this universe doesn’t mind* giving Cammalleri $5MM, has no problem giving O’Sullivan $3.5MM.
  • September, 2008 — …which means he has to give Stoll a little more too…$3.9MM.
  • October, 2008 — Cammalleri discovers he doesn’t like Terry Murray. Instead of recording career numbers in Calgary, he struggles mightily on the Kings’ 1st/2nd/4th/1st/3rd/1st/4th/1st line.
  • March, 2009 — Lombardi trades the underperforming O’Sullivan for Justin Williams, but to compensate for the extra salary, Lombardi has to thrown in the 2010 6th round pick, in addition to the 2009 2nd round pick.
  • June, 2009 — Kopitar uses a powerpoint presentation showing Cammalleri’s dollars-per-goal ratio to persuade Lombardi (or Lombardi*) to give him a seven year deal at $7.3MM cap hit.
  • July 2, 2009 — Lombardi acquires Ryan Smyth and suddenly the Kings are about $1-2MM over the cap. They’re going to have to unload some salary. The candidates are Handzus, Stoll, Williams, Brown, Scuderi or Greene. Which means it’s either Handzus or Stoll.
  • Summer, 2009 — Lombardi cannot find anyone to take 2 years of Handzus at $4MM/year. So Stoll is traded for pucks. Cammalleri moves to center on the second line.
  • June, 2010 — Because Lombardi traded away his 6th round pick, he is not able to trade up to grab Maxim Kitsyn.
  • July, 2010 — The Kings have no cap room to pursue Ilya Kovalchuk or anyone else, so the summer of 2010 is much more fun.
  • October, 2010 — Jack Johnson extends, at $5MM/year, not $4.5MM.
  • October, 2010 — Kings opening night roster is:

Smyth ($6.25MM) – Kopitar ($7.3MM) – Williams ($3.5MM)

Parse ($900K) – Cammalleri ($5MM) – Brown ($5MM)
Ponikarovsky ($3MM) – Handzus ($4MM) – Simmonds ($800K)
Clifford ($800K) – Richardson ($900K) – Westgarth ($525K)
Lewis ($900K)

Mitchell ($3.5MM) – Doughty ($3.4MM)
Scuderi ($3.4MM) – Johnson ($1.425M)
Martinez/Muzzin ($800K) – Greene ($2.95MM)
Drewiske ($617K) – Harrold ($550K)

Quick ($1.8MM) – Bernier ($1.2MM)

  • Kings are up against the cap ceiling.
  • February 28, 2011 — Lombardi, strapped for cap room, does not trade for Dustin Penner.
  • Spring, 2011 — Williams extends at a cap hit of $4MM, not $3.6MM.

This year’s playoffs, with a side of Cammalleri?

  • April, 2011 — The Kings enter the first round series against San Jose without Kopitar and Parse, both injured (per reality). But they have Cammalleri instead of Penner (presumably an upgrade) And they don’t have Stoll.
  • Does the addition of Cammalleri have given the Kings the needed edge in some of those one-goal games? Or, does his defensive inattentiveness fit right in with the Kings’ meltdown theme? I can imagine either outcome.
  • But let’s say he helps and the Kings get themselves out of the first round, sort of like Montreal last year. (Woo.)
  • …before they lose in round two or three to the eventual cup winner. (Boo.)
  • (the point is, I feel safe saying Cammalleri would not have been the Missing Piece that delivers the Cup in 2010.)
  • The question then becomes…

Would that extra round or two have been worth it?

  • There are several things to look at. The first is the fact that signing Cammalleri sucks up all the cap room Lombardi used to pursue upgrades through trade (in this case, Penner). Personally, I believe that Penner (who, recent evidence to the contrary, is good defensively) is a better option than Cammalleri. But let’s say I’m wrong. Say Penner sucks all of next year. Let’s say he wears the Frolov wig. He’s “enigmatic” and everyone blames him. Would we wish we had Cammalleri then?
  • Let’s follow the counter-factual for a few more months…
  • June, 2011 — Doughty extends at $6.5MM cap hit into perpetuity.
  • June, 2011 — Wayne Simmonds extends at $1.8MM.
  • June, 2011 — The cap increases to $62.5MM…
  • …which is just about exactly the Kings’ cap figure.
  • September, 2011 — At training camp, Brayden Schenn is one of the best players on the ice, but he’s demoted to Manchester because the Kings don’t have the cap room to keep him. There is no bonus cushion in the last year of the CBA, so all of Schenn’s cap hit ($3.14MM) would count. As a result, Schenn is buried in the minors for the season.
  • The 2011-12 opening night roster looks like this:

Cammalleri ($5MM) – Kopitar ($7.3MM) – Williams ($4MM)
Smyth ($6.25MM) – Lewis ($1MM) – Brown ($5MM)
Clifford ($870K) – Handzus ($1.5MM) – Simmonds ($1.8MM)
Parse ($900K) – Richardson ($1MM) – Westgarth ($525K)
[warm body in press box, maybe even Peter Harrold ($800K)]

Mitchell ($3.5MM) – Doughty ($6.5MM)
Scuderi ($3.4MM) – Johnson ($5MM)
Martinez ($900K) – Greene ($2.95MM)
Drewiske ($617K) – Muzzin ($800K)
Quick ($1.8MM) – Bernier ($1.25MM).

  • The Kings have Cammalleri, but don’t have Stoll or Schenn, and don’t have Penner either (which you might think is a blessing — I think Penner will have a great year next year — but I’m willing to look at his absence as a bonus here).
  • In reality — outside of this exercise — the Kings have the option of using Schenn or Loktionov or both next season. But in the Cammalleri Counter-Factual, the Kings are forced to use a steeply discounted Handzus (or someone similar, if Handzus won’t sign in that range), instead of the faster, more offensive Stoll, in the third line center spot.
  • And whoever the second line center is, he’s got to be cheap. Either Loktionov is ready, or an unlikely candidate like Justin Azevedo appears out of nowhere, or the Kings are stuck with something like Kopitar/Lewis/Handzus/Richardson down the middle.
  • Also, it’s interesting that we (I) began this frivolous exercise in part because of the perceived need for speed, and as a result of retaining the speed we previously traded away, we end up having to trade away the speed we have. (That’s a mouthful: I mean we gain Cammalleri and lose Stoll.)
  • AND we don’t get Schenn for another year (2012-13).
  • Having Cammalleri instead of Penner, Stoll and Schenn leaves the Kings smaller and very thin down the middle. Actually, it’s Cammalleri and Handzus, instead of Penner, Stoll and the option of Schenn or Loktionov. Yes, Cammy is speedy and a sniper. But if Penner is not going to suck and Schenn or Loktionov are ready for prime time, there really is no need for Cammalleri.

*This is semantics, since Dean Lombardi could no more sign Mike Cammalleri for $6MM than he could fly to the moon. In fact, had he done so, it would have been proof that either (a) he had been replaced by a replicant, or (b) he had been ordered to by management (see Lamoriello, Lou; Kovalchuk, Ilya). In a way, this whole exercise is really about pretending that someone other than Dean Lombardi is Kings GM, or else that Lombardi is possessed by Glen Sather.

**Cammy-sized means big, in this context, not — you know…

Talking Points