Brian Campbell is back with the Chicago Blackhawks. That's pretty remarkable in itself, but not nearly as much as the discount he took to make it happen. Campbell, even at age 37, is not a player who should be signing for a $1.5 million base salary. The Hawks just got a spectacular bargain, and I imagine it's the envy of many opposing teams right now.
Even when the rumors of Campbell returning to Chicago first bubbled to the surface, there was always that small caveat of millions of dollars. If Campbell was really going to make his grand return to the Hawks after five years in Florida, he'd have to be willing to give up a lot of money to do it.
And somewhere between the end of the season and Friday, GM Stan Bowman convinced Campbell to take a deal that's going to be one of the biggest value signings of the offseason. Campbell at one year and $1.5 million, plus a $750,000 games played performance, is a steal that could only happen under special circumstances.
For Campbell, this is clearly a decision born of emotion as much as practicality. The Panthers reportedly offered him $4.75 million on a one-year deal, so he gave up at least $2.5 million before taxes in order to return to Chicago. Even for someone who's coming off a $57 million contract, that's not a small amount of money, and nine times of 10, money ultimately decides these things.
But Campbell didn't mince words in explaining that he wanted to come home. "It’s where my heart is, it’s where I want to play," he said Friday. Bowman indicated that he similarly had a singular focus in free agency. "I’m not going to say we won’t sign anybody else, but our main focus was to sign Brian," the GM said.
This was clearly a core part of the Hawks' vision for the offseason, and the reason for it is clear. Campbell is going to be a massive upgrade to this team at a cost so low it's almost stupid. Soupy's return is going to be very delicious.
Puck control gets a boost
One of the key areas where Chicago took a step back last season was controlling the puck. The Hawks have long been one of the great possession teams in the league and that style has served them well throughout the years. Last season was a major step back for the team, however. The Hawks finished just 19th in 5v5 Corsi at 48.9 percent. It's been a not-so-great trend for the team:
This is an area where Campbell's impact should be immediately felt. Campbell has long been one of the game's better defensemen at puck control and tilting the ice in the other direction. Last season, he had a +5.7 percent Corsi Relative (the team's Corsi was 5.7 percent higher when he was on the ice than off), and the year before, he was at +5.2 percent. He was regularly a stellar possession defenseman during his time with the Panthers, and that's something the Hawks badly needed.
The chain effect on the blue line
One of the most crucial aspects to the addition of Campbell is that it finally solves the rotating door in the Hawks' top four. Campbell seems like a perfect fit next to Brent Seabrook, a point machine coming off a poor year in other ways, and allows Joel Quenneville to confidently stick with a top pairing of Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson. It's a degree of stability that eluded the Hawks throughout last season, when the team's defense was so shaky it decided to throw David Rundblad into active duty during the playoffs months after his last NHL appearance.
I don't think the Hawks have to worry about that happening again. With the top four more or less in place, Chicago's coaching staff now gets to decide from a long list of interesting players to fill out the bottom pairing. Michal Kempny, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Roszival, Viktor Svedberg, Erik Gustafsson, Ville Pokka and Gustav Forsling will be battling it out in training camp. You have to imagine the first three names on that list are the favorites barring a trade, but it's the kind of depth that the Hawks didn't have last season. Even if Q insists upon playing the Czech duo of Kempny-Rozy far more than he should, this group is undeniably stronger than last season's.
That should benefit a number of players, including Seabrook and TVR. When those two played together last season, it was an outright disaster. The team's Corsi was near 40 percent as they were just getting hammered into their own end. Getting Seabrook a better, steadier partner in Campbell should do him wonders, and returning to a smaller role could help van Riemsdyk, too. He held his own most of the time last season in a role he shouldn't have been filling, and the addition of Campbell helps ensure he won't fill it again.
The terms are super favorable
It's hard to express how good of a deal this is. Actually, wait a sec, it's really not. Dan Hamhuis got a $3.75 million AAV. Ben Lovejoy got $2.66 million. Kris Russell and Jason Demers are expected to get around $5 million, maybe even more. And then there's Campbell, coming off a better season than any of them, not only signing for just $2.25 million (including the bonus), but doing it for one year. This is as low-risk, high-upside a contract as you'll find on the NHL free agent market.
That's apparent from the other rumored offers Campbell received, including the $4.75 million deal from Florida. His market clearly was several levels above the price range where he signed. While Soupy didn't have to accept the league minimum -- something he said he wouldn't do -- this is pretty much the next best thing. If it somehow doesn't work out, both sides will just move on next summer.
And there's not a ton of reason to believe this move will bust. Even though Campbell's bonus is basically a formality, making his cap hit more like $2.25 million, it's still a clear bargain and one of the best value contracts of the summer. And what the bonus does is give Chicago some flexibility -- instead of having that extra $750,000 on the 2016-17 books no matter what, Bowman now has the option of pushing it into 2017-18 as a cap overage if he wants to go out at the trade deadline and add pieces. The team has been trying hard to avoid extra commitments on the books for next offseason, when Artemi Panarin is set to become a restricted free agent, but now they have a little more flexibility in-season.
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Overall, this is a huge win for Bowman and the Hawks, and we should be thrilled that Campbell's connection to Chicago was strong enough to bring him home like this. Passing up over $2 million is nothing to sneeze at, even if he's already wealthy, and it's a testament to the respect the Blackhawks command from players around the league. At that price, there's really not a better deal the team could have made.