MONTREAL — There are no hard feelings nearly 25 months later, no lingering bitterness or pangs of resentment.
The Canadiens’ 2012 trade of Michael Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames was bizarre in so many ways, a mid-game deal executed by then-Habs general manager Pierre Gauthier that shortened the sagging Montreal bench for the final 20 minutes of a January loss to the Bruins in Boston.
On Tuesday at the Bell Centre, Cammalleri finally played his first game against the Canadiens since the trade.
The Habs have twice played the Flames in Calgary since the deal, Cammalleri injured for a March 2012 contest and another three games into this season. On Tuesday, in the visitors’ dressing room at noon-hour, one game returned from a concussion that had sidelined him for nine games, he made it clear he bears no grudge against the Habs.
“I talked to Pierre on the phone close to the end of last season,” Cammalleri said. “One thing people don’t realize is that, at the end of the day, we’re playing a game we’re all trying to win.
“As long as people aren’t bad human beings, (as long as) everybody’s treating each other as good human beings, and you can always say, ‘Hi, how’s it going, what’s going on?’ and you understand why people do the things they do. …
“It was actually nice to talk to (Gauthier) last year.”
Cammalleri’s trade to Calgary was probably the most surreal transaction in Canadiens history, the Habs forward building a house in Montreal to deepen his roots here when the deal went down.
He had played through 2½ seasons since arriving in July 2009 as part of a free-agent influx, signing a 5-year, $30-million contract. With 54 goals and 65 assists in 170 games, it was his playoff work that most stood out — 13 goals and six assists in an improbable three-round, 19-game postseason run in 2010 and three goals and seven assists in seven games the following year.
That strange night, the Canadiens having gone 3-8 in their previous 11 games and now trailing the Bruins by a goal, Gauthier pulled his mid-match trigger, Cammalleri having played 9:02 on a dozen shifts through 40 minutes.
The deal sent Cammalleri and goaltender Karri Ramo to Calgary in exchange for forward Rene Bourque and prospect Patrick Holland, both sides throwing in a draft pick.
The ex-Habs forward showered, returned to the team’s hotel — the club had checked out pregame — and awaited instructions. Only there did he learn he was bound for Calgary.
“It’s understandable, I think that’s sometimes the protocol,” he said of the mysterious change of address, “to make sure that everything’s approved. It honestly didn’t bother me at all at the time. I’m thinking that if I’m the other team and maybe if something happens (an injury during the third period), then the deal is off the table.”
A day earlier, he had emptied his heart to two Montreal reporters about his slumping team.
“I can’t accept that we will display a losing attitude as we’re doing this year,” is how Cammalleri was quoted on the Internet, comments translated into French then reprocessed into English. “We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it’s no wonder why we lose.”
In Cammalleri’s view, it wasn’t those comments — that the outspoken, talkative forward included himself in “we” apparently slipped between the cracks — that greased his skids out of town.
“Clearly, it wasn’t a matter of me wanting to leave,” he said. “I talked to Pierre the night after all that happened. I wasn’t the one making the deal, but my opinion is, I don’t think it had as much to do with (the comments) as the timing made it seem.
“It was much more to do with our team not being where it wanted to be and feeling like a shakeup was needed. There was a trade available for a player they liked (Bourque) and that’s how this business works.”
Tuesday’s morning game-day skate was Cammalleri’s first time back in the Bell Centre since he was shipped out of town; he returned to Brossard from Boston the day after his trade to claim his extra equipment and personal effects, then joined the Flames.
“It’s nice to be back,” he said, having dressed in the arena’s visitors room only twice previously, once with Los Angeles in 2005, again during his first tour of duty with the Flames in 2008.
“I have nothing but fond memories of this place. I had so much fun here, my family had a really great time, there were a lot of really special nights here.”
His two enduring memories were the remarkable Dec. 4, 2009 centennial game, marking the 100th anniversary of the Habs’ birth with team legends wallpapering the building, and the 2010 playoffs, in which the Canadiens knocked off Washington and Pittsburgh before falling in a five-game Eastern final to Philadelphia.
“We didn’t win the Stanley Cup so let’s not go crazy,” Cammalleri said. “It would have been nice to keep going but I think the team kind of banded together. We started with an upset in the first round, down a couple games, and as the momentum built, you felt you were a part of something … that could continue and couldn’t be stopped.”
The Canadiens fan base lived and died with every shot, every goal, every save during the improbable run. Cammalleri considered the thought uttered by many players that Montreal is a great city in which to play when you’re winning, dramatically the opposite with a loss.
“It’s definitely a great place when you’re winning,” he said. “When you’re losing, it’s a place you feel the ins and outs every day. It’s a challenging place.
“For most of us (players), the most pressure is what we put on ourselves. You feel the impact you have on everyone’s happiness when things aren’t going well and it makes it that much more important to try to get things going well again.”
Cammalleri’s name is surfacing again in rumours as he nears unrestricted free agency and the March 5 trade deadline approaches. He shrugs now as he shrugged nearly 25 months ago, saying he’s had good communication with Flames GM Brian Burke to discuss the future.
“I’ve heard the speculation,” he said. “I understand where I am contractually and why there would be talk.”
Just for fun, I suggested to him, he should remain in the Flames dressing room for a few minutes into the start of Tuesday’s third period to get tongues wagging.
A mid-game trade?
“I mentioned to my dad that all I need tonight is something dramatic here again,” he said with a laugh, declining the invitation. “It would be nice for everything to go ice and easy. No drama.
“A nice 2-1 win for us would make me very happy, and we can move on.”
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