Saturday, April 7, 2012

Campbell's Quick Feet are Redeeming Factors to the Panthers

By Larry Wigge

GM Dale Tallon came to the aid of defenseman Brian Campbell once again. Or did he?

When this dazzling skating defenseman was signed as a free agent by Tallon and the Chicago Blackhawks it was for an eight-year deal for $57.1 million deal. It was a contract talked about around the NHL. Good or bad ... it was rich.

When Tallon became gm of the Florida Panthers, he once again signed Campbell -- and that contract to Chicago for winger Rotislav Olesz last summer.

Signing a player to that sort of contract is uncharted territory -- except the Panthers have no contract to speak of -- so they could afford it.

"Those aren't feet that are going to go away. He's a gifted skater and those are things you look at if you are signing a long-term deal like this," Tallon recalled. "It's nuts today. Players have a huge advantage. But if you want to step up to the plate, you have to pay the fiddler, and we paid the fiddler today." 

Again. Or did he?

The Panthers had not made the playoffs since 1999-2000 -- and Tallon was gambling that Campbell would help lead Florida to the Promised Land. Which he did.

The Strathroy, Ont., native, was third in defensemen scoring behind only Ottawa's Erik Karlsson and Winnipeg's Dustin Byfluglien with four goals and 49 assists for 53 points. Only the 2007-08 season in which he combined for 62 points for Buffalo and San Jose was more. He logged 26:53, tied for most in the NHL with Chicago's Duncan Keith.

That's a long road from the day in June 1997, when the Strathroy, Ontario, native, was picked in the sixth round -- 156th overall -- of the NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres.

Transition. Transition. Transition.

I remember San Jose GM Doug Wilson telling me this is one guy he had to have.

"Brian's a guy that gets the puck out of your zone quick," said Wilson, after he acquired the 28-year-old Campbell from the Buffalo Sabres for former 2003 first-round draft choice Steve Bernier and a first-round pick in this year's Entry Draft. "He's a quarterback on the power play, and he will complement our group really well."

But after seeing him disappear in the playoffs, Wilson let him go.

"I brought Soupy into Chicago and he's willing to come down to help us turn this franchise around and that speaks volumes," Tallon said. "He bring us credibility."

To Tallon's credit, Campbell helped backstop the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup title in 2010.

And Campbell was on board with the draft day trade to Florida, where Dale was once again his boss.

"I was pretty quiet yesterday, mulling it over, thinking of all the positives and negatives of the situation," Campbell recalled. "Dale did some great things in Chicago for a lot of guys and I've talked to a lot of my ex-teammates who are saying to me, 'Get me there.'

"Dale will make this place very attractive for players to want to come and play there. We'll get this organization going in the right direction and make the fans want to come back and support a great team."

First-year coach Kevin Dineen was giddy.

"What's more exciting? Our third overall pick or the pretty big splash on the trade front yesterday?" Dineen joked. "Coming out of the Buffalo organization, GM Darcy Regier mentioned to me that no one has a bigger passion or enjoyment of the game of hockey than he did. And he found a way to become an extraordinary talent."

His father, Ed, is a retired school principal. His mom, Lois, is manager of customer service at Scotiabank.

"It's good for me to play in a role I feel like I can handle and provide for this team," Campbell said. "I can just go out there and play hockey and have a lot of fun and help produce some wins."

Said Chicago star Patrick Kane, "Sometimes you don't really think how big of a loss he really is. He's a great puck-moving defenseman who can get you the puck in a lot of good areas to get shots off or get speed coming up the ice. You see his stats this year -- he has a lot of assists. He's helping that team tremendously."

"For myself, personally, it was the best decision accepting the trade," Campbell said. "I've been able to do what I feel is the reason why I'm playing in this league a little bit more now than maybe I was before. It's just good getting these chances.

"I loved my time in Chicago. The organization was great, and I learned a ton from coach Joel Quenneville with how to play the game. But now, it's the past."

But here we are now with the Panthers winning the Southeast Conference title -- and a lot of that goes to Brian Campbell, he of those aren't feet that are going to go away.

And in in confidence Dale Tallon has in those feet.

Who can say now that Brian Campbell can't single-handedly lead a team like the Florida Panthers to new heights.

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