Dreams do come true

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Common sense says Michael Cammalleri is going to cash in and bolt back to his home province with a fat cheque in hand when he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

But common sense also suggested Jarome Iginla would finish his career somewhere else, and that there was no way general manager Darryl Sutter would be able to fit other Calgary Flames cornerstones -- Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf and Miikka Kiprusoff -- all under the salary cap.

Let's just say stranger things have happened.

If Cammalleri chooses money over success, there's little doubt he'll get a more attractive offer from a team such as his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, desperate to add some star power to a rebuilt roster.

But with the uncertain economy and potentially plummeting cap ceiling, maybe the difference in price tag won't be big enough to lure the 26-year-old away from an ideal situation.

Playing on a line with Iginla affords him more room than he'd enjoy on the ice with guys such as Matt Stajan or Mikhail Grabovski.

Cammalleri is leading the Flames with 25 goals, but he's not being asked to carry the team offensively.

The depth of forwards rates amongst the best in the league.

He's also having a blast after struggling through his most difficult season as a professional a year ago.

"I've enjoyed playing with these guys thoroughly. It's a fun group," Cammalleri said after uncharacteristically unleashing cliches when reporters grilled him about his pending unrestricted free agent status. "Not just (linemates Craig Conroy and Iginla), but right through it.

"These d-men are guys that you love having on your team and would hate to play against every night.

"I've never played with a goalie of Kipper's abilities.

"I've definitely enjoyed myself, but I think I'm going to go back to saying what I said earlier -- I hate to be repetitive, but those things will take care of themselves."

Making $3.6 million this season, (a $3.35M cap hit), Cammalleri might be willing to live with a raise in the neighbourhood of a couple million. Defenceman Adrian Aucoin's massive $4-million hit comes off the books at the end of the year, leaving enough for Sutter to dish out for another decent defenceman on top of Cammalleri's pay hike.

Adam Pardy's development makes a big-money blueliner less a priority, assuming the Flames will be rewarded for their investment in Pardy's evolution by signing him before he can become a Group 6 UFA at season's end.

And while there's no past connection for Cammalleri to call Calgary home for anything other than this season, a successful playoff run might encourage him anyway to take a hometown discount of sorts.

Winning is the ultimate bargaining chip in the game of hockey.

"He does love it here. I talk to him about it all the time. He's so excited that we're winning," said Conroy, who went through hard times with Cammalleri when both were members of the Los Angeles Kings after the lockout.

"He hasn't had a chance to go to the playoffs."

He has that chance here.

And he'll have that opportunity again next year if he plays here. In fact, the Flames are good bets for the post-season for at least another few seasons. Not many other teams -- certainly not the Maple Leafs -- can offer that sort of stability.

So while Cammalleri shows his stuff on the ice this season, performing at a point-per-game pace and adding future padding to his wallet, we'll see what means most to him when the summer rolls around.

He might just choose to stick around.

Stranger things have happened.


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