When I reminisce on the ascension of the Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender and eventual champion, one player that always comes to mind is defenseman Brian Campbell. I recall plays like him stepping up and rocking Ville Leino in Game 4 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers:
Or Soupy corralling the puck in the defensive zone, leading the charge into the neutral zone, springing Patrick Kane on a 4-on-3 and then burying a return pass from Kane over Roberto Luongo’s shoulder. The Blackhawks went on to crush the Vancouver Canucks 7-2 in Game 4 of the 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals, which began a memorable battle to force Game 7 after being down 3-0 in the series.
I also remember when the Blackhawks announced the signing of Campbell to an eight-year, $57-million deal on July 1, 2008. I had this spinorama on repeat that offseason:
Campbell ended up playing in 295 regular season games with the Blackhawks. He tallied 134 points (24 G, 110 A), was plus-63, had a 54.9 Corsi-For rating and averaged 21:41 minutes of ice time (TOI). He was also a consistent performer in the postseason. He played in 47 playoff games, had 18 points (4 G, 14 A), was plus-11 and averaged 20:38 TOI.
Other than providing production from the blue line and driving possession, Campbell had a handful of other intangibles and expertise that stood out. His edge-work was sublime - he could escape pressure with a quick cut to the left or right, fake out a forechecker with a subtle rotation of the hips or bounce off a check and spring himself into a seemingly effortless sprint out of the defensive zone and lead a rush down the ice. In a blink of an eye, the 5’10” Campbell could step up, take the body and separate the puck from an unsuspecting opponent. He was also technically sound with his defensive gap and positioning, which allowed him to force turnovers with a poke check or by leading the puck carrier into areas of the ice that gave him a positional advantage in a 1-on-1 battle.
He was also resilient. On March 15, 2010, Alex Ovechkin recklessly slammed Campbell into the boards after he executed a reverse pass to Duncan Keith.
The hit broke Campbell’s collarbone and a rib. He was supposed to miss eight weeks, but he miraculously returned on Aril 22 for Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarter-Finals against the Nashville Predators. The Blackhawks went on to shutout David Legwand and Martin Erat of the Predators 3-0 and then win two straight to take the series 4-2.
Unfortunately, Campbell’s initial three-year stint with the Blackhawks came to an end at the 2011 NHL Draft when he was traded to the Florida Panthers for winger Rostilav Olesz to free up salary cap space. I often forget that Olesz was a former No. 7 overall pick in 2004 and went on to play six games for the Blackhawks and did not record a point.
Campbell excelled with the Panthers for five seasons with a 0.46 point-per-game pace (PTS/G), which is almost exactly the same as his 0.45 PTS/G with Chicago, a 52.7 Corsi-For rating and averaged 25:02 minutes of ice time per game. In 2011-12 he was awarded the Lady Byng Memorial trophy for exemplifying top notch sportsmanship in combination with a high standard of playing ability. Not surprisingly, in five of Campbell’s NHL seasons he finished in the top-20 of voting for the Lady Byng. He was a mirror image of what the trophy represented - an elite skill level combined with professionalism, maturity and leadership on and off the ice.
After his eight-year contract expired following the 2015-16 season with the Panthers, Campbell was brought back to the Blackhawks for the 2016-17 season on a one-year, $2-million contract. He wanted to finish his career in Chicago with his family and retire as a Blackhawk.
Although his playing days are over, Campbell continues to have a vital role in the Blackhawks organization. He’s been tasked with assisting in the development of their top defensive prospect, Adam Boqvist. During the London Knights’ 2018-19 OHL season Campbell would watch Boqvist live, critique his performance, provide video analysis, help with his practice time and act as a mentor for the Swedish 18-year old that was still adjusting to the North American style of hockey and lifestyle. Check out this video if you want to see Campbell in action with Boqvist:
Like Boqvist, Campbell was a gifted playmaker from the blue line. If Campbell can instill his defensive instincts into Boqvist’s game, then Chicago could have a future top-2 defenseman in the pipeline with the potential for 20-plus minutes of ice time per game and 50-plus points per season.
Campbell was spotted at Day 1 of the Blackhawks Development Camp. He will continue to assist in player development for Boqvist, and one would think that would also extend over to Chicagos’ other top defensive prospects, Nicolas Beaudin and Ian Mitchell.
Campbell won’t be as highly regarded as Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith once their illustrious careers are over. However, in my mind, he was one of the best two-way defensemen the Blackhawks have ever had besides Chris Chelios, Doug Wilson and Keith, of course. I hope he is a member of the Blackhawks organization and continues to mentor our defensive prospects for a long time.
What is your favorite memory of Soupy?