Daily Debate: Did trade make Habs better?

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discuss the questionable circumstances surrounding Thursday night's trade between Montreal and Calgary:

Burnside: Good day, my friend. Got to hand it to the Montreal Canadiens. They may be junk on the ice, but they're world class when it comes to manufacturing news in the hockey world. Last night, GM Pierre Gauthier somehow allowed Mike Cammalleri to get on the ice for two periods before taking him out of the game and sending him to the team's hotel in Boston, because he'd been traded to the Calgary Flames as part of a package that includes Calgary forward Rene Bourque. Not that GMs are prone to stretching the truth or anything, but Gauthier insisted up and down to reporters after the game that the trade had nothing to do with Cammalleri's rather pointed comments this week about what he called a losing mentality that pervades the Habs' dressing room. Nothing hurts worse than the truth, although clearly the comments stung the once-proud franchise. The fact that Cammalleri has always been very accessible to the media and is having an off season with just nine goals through 38 games probably didn't further endear himself to the rest of his colleagues in bleu, blanc et rouge.

Still, it's not as though Bourque is the second coming of Rocket Richard. Like Cammalleri, Bourque has goal-scoring potential but has delivered only 13 goals thus far this season and he's been suspended twice. So, whether Gauthier's telling the truth or not, the move seems more petulant than anything, which is entirely in keeping with the Habs, who seem to be easily overtaken by the meaningless and the petty. Bourque, who's from a small bilingual community in Northern Alberta, was quoted in Calgary after the trade was announced as saying he had better learn French, which these days seems more important in Montreal than whether he can help the team win as the Habs spiral further and further out of the playoff race.

LeBrun: I certainly don't think this deal makes the Canadiens a better team, as Gauthier asserted after the announcement, but it's also not that terrible a deal. I see it as a sideways move. Over the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, Bourque actually outscored Cammalleri 57 goals to 45; mind you, Cammalleri was limited by injuries in both those seasons. But where Cammalleri truly made his mark in Montreal was in the playoffs, where he was Mr. Clutch in potting 16 goals in 26 postseason games over two years. Not that the Canadiens will have to worry about the playoffs this season, but that's the part that the Habs will miss the most. Cammalleri was their best big-game goal scorer.

On the flip side, the Canadiens save cap space, Bourque counting $3.3 million toward the cap annually, while Cammalleri is a $6 million hit (Bourque has four more years on his deal after this season; Cammalleri has two more years after this season). On a club with some bad contracts that go past this season (Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle, Andrei Markov), those cap savings can't be dismissed.

Still, it's the way it went down that I don't like. OK, Flames GM Jay Feaster said this deal was in the works for a long time, but I spoke with a Western Conference GM last night who insisted that few people around the league knew Cammalleri was truly available. An Eastern Conference GM seconded that notion this morning, saying in his opinion Gauthier did not make too bad a deal with Calgary but felt the Habs GM should have shopped Cammalleri around the league more. I have no issue with trading Cammalleri, but did Gauthier get the best possible deal for him? Yes, Cammalleri has a limited no-trade clause, but, in my opinion, that shouldn't stop a GM from calling around and seeing what is the best deal, even if he has to get approval from the player.

Burnside: Agreed that Bourque has value both in his ability and the financial flexibility. But I also agree that it's hard to believe Gauthier couldn't have gotten more for a guy who has shown that rare ability to produce in the playoffs. I got to spend a lot of time with Cammalleri during that 2010 run to the Eastern Conference finals -- does that not seem like a hundred thousand years ago given how far the Habs have fallen in such a short period of time? -– and you could hardly find a more erudite player than Cammalleri. It was obvious that his willingness to expound on a variety of topics with the media rubbed some of his teammates the wrong way. And the rushed nature of this deal suggests this is more impulse than carefully thought out. For instance, how does Cammalleri even get near the ice last night if the deal is that close? Truly bizarre. You have to imagine that David Poile might have had some interest in a guy like Cammalleri in Nashville, or Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles, where Cammalleri first broke into the league after being drafted by the Kings in 2001.

Here's the thing: The Flames won again last night, three in a row, and as of now are just three points out of eighth in the West. I know you don't think the Flames have a shot, but it would be more than a little ironic if this is the deal that somehow pushes the Flames into the playoff dance, while the Habs will be nowhere to be seen come mid-April.

LeBrun: The trade also gives the Canadiens a bit more size, which they dearly need, Bourque at 6-foot-2 compared to Cammalleri at 5-foot-9. From a Flames' perspective, it's clear the rebuild is on hold. To me, this deal signifies Jarome Iginla isn't going anywhere this season.

"That's correct," Feaster told me via text message Friday. "Iggy is going nowhere and we are going for it."

Feaster talked about the playoff drive last night after announcing the deal. With a chance to make the playoffs -- although there are three teams ahead of them for eighth place -- the rebuild can wait for the offseason when the club has 14 free agents, nine of them unrestricted.

Via text message last night, Feaster relayed how incredibly excited Cammalleri was when he called him. It was in Calgary in the 2008-09 season that Cammalleri potted a career-high 39 goals, a fact that wasn't lost on Feaster when he made the deal.

Burnside: Like you, I don't see the Flames creeping back into the top eight in the West, but Cammalleri will certainly be motivated and Miikka Kiprusoff is playing like the Kiprusoff of old, so who knows. Before we close, I will be watching closely Friday night's tilt between your hometown Toronto Maple Leafs and their closest NHL neighbors, the Buffalo Sabres. This is the second of back-to-back games this week between the longtime rivals. The Leafs won the first game 2-0 and a sweep in this mini-set would be emotionally devastating to the already-fragile Sabres. Buffalo is just five points out of eighth in the East and, of course, was in a similar position last season before turning in an inspired second half that saw the Sabres vault into seventh place in the conference before gagging against Philadelphia in the first round. This team, however, has shown no signs that it is capable of repeating such a feat.

As for the Leafs, who could have figured goaltender Jonas Gustavsson would become The Monster that he's been of late? Everyone was wondering whether James Reimer could replicate his strong play of late last season, and now he has been pushed to the side by Gustavsson, who was, himself, an afterthought at the beginning of the season. Curious how it goes. But a win by the Leafs would vault them over New Jersey and into sixth place in the conference. Go figure.

LeBrun: When the Leafs lost a New Year's Eve game in Winnipeg, they dropped out of a playoff spot and ignited some hand-wringing by fans in Leaf Nation. After all, they had seen this movie before. The Leafs, however, have gone 4-0-0 to start the New Year (all home games) and are showing signs they aren't the pretenders of yesteryear.

But you're right, this game means so much more to the Sabres tonight. They're a desperate bunch, injuries having hammered them this season. What really strikes me of late is just how flat they seem. That's worrisome. It's a team that could use a shake-up in terms of a trade. I'd be stunned if GM Darcy Regier doesn't pull off at least one significant move before Feb. 27. He's got a new owner with deep pockets who expected a lot more than this after the money he shelled out last summer.

Well, my friend, have a great weekend. I have to go shovel some snow now, Toronto finally getting hit with the white stuff today.