Author’s Twitter: @_MikeLuci_
Throughout his career, left wing Mike Cammalleri was always a perennial scoring asset for every team he’s played for. While he’s posted formidable numbers, injuries have plagued the 34-year old forward’s 13-year career. Cammalleri never played a full 82-game schedule, but did fall short by one or two contests in three of those years. Cammalleri hasn’t played more than 80 games since 2008-2009 and never made more than 68 appearances in a single season outside of that. Since 2005, Cammalleri’s missed around 150 games mostly from injuries and while he’s among the Devil’s top forwards, those health issues continue to haunt him. Cammalleri will be 34 at the start of next season, which raises a lot of concern over how much longer he can endure this degree of wear and tear while still remaining an effective player.
Considering how goal-starved the Devils have been in recent years, Cammalleri’s shoot-first mentality and offensive prowess made him a perfect fit in New Jersey, where he became an immediate difference maker. Although Cammalleri only appeared in 42 contests where he tallied 14 goals and 38 points, his influence on the team when healthy became very evident last season. New Jersey went 22-15-5 with Cammalleri playing, and 16-21-3 without him. His last game was on January 26th, after which the Devils would go 13-16-3 over their final 32 games. Simply put, it’s no coincidence New Jersey’s midyear implosion coincided with Cammalleri’s season-ending ailments after the Devils were in the thicket of the playoff race through the first-half of 2015-2016.
Cammalleri’s 14 goals accounted for 12.3% of the 114 New Jersey scored at their 50-game mark. The Devils would score only 70 more times in their season’s final 32 contests, which was only a 4.38% drop in goals per game (2.18) compared to the pace they maintained over their first 50 (2.28). Although New Jersey scored the fewest goals in the NHL, the deficit Cammalleri’s absence caused was primarily offset by surges in Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique’s play, along with notable contributions from up and comers like Reid Boucher and Devante Smith-Pelly. If Cammalleri played in just 68 contests last season, he would have been on pace to net 22-23 goals and 61 points. Like I’ve noted in previous articles, those eight or nine extra goals Cammalleri was on pace for could have helped the Devils gain some extra ground in the standings if they were scored in any of the one-goal losses they suffered.
The numbers demonstrate how Cammalleri’s season-ending injury exploited the fragility of New Jersey’s offense and how integral Cammalleri was to the success New Jersey achieved in their first 50 games. The Devils are among the teams with the most cap space this offseason, where they have an opportunity to prevent a situation like this from happening again. While the majority of New Jersey’s fan base is accepting and onboard with the rebuild, the Devils were primed to make an unprecedented playoff push that Cammalleri’s season-ending injury diminished. In the past, contending teams have had to go without their star forwards for similar durations like the Tampa Bay Lightning (Stamkos), Pittsburgh Penguins (Crosby, Malkin), and Chicago Blackhawks (Patrick Kane), but had the necessary offensive depth to offset that void. This is something the Devils clearly lacked last year, despite the 30-goal campaigns of Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique.
At this point, it seems inevitable that Cammalleri will succumb to injury at some point next season. While it’s possible one of the organization’s young forwards like Reid Boucher, Devante Smith-Pelley, or Joseph Blandisi is primed for a breakout year, it shouldn’t deter general manager Ray Shero from bringing in another veteran top-six scorer as means of insurance for a repeat scenario like last year. Outside of Cammalleri, the Devils only have two forwards signed beyond next year so there are plenty of vacancies up front to bring in another scorer, while making sure the organization’s influx of young forwards get ample playing opportunities. Whether that player is an unrestricted free agent like Kyle Okposo, Milan Lucic, Loui Eriksson, or is acquired via trade, an assured source of 20+ goals in addition to the production from the rest of the offense could be enough to keep New Jersey’s heads above the water if a significant contributor like Cammalleri were to undergo another lengthy sidelining.