A Toast To 51 Phantom

A couple days late with this, but Campbell deserves a post that isn't an analysis of his trade or the cap space provided or the ramifications but just an appreciation of what he brought to the Hawks for three years. And it was unique, and something we hadn't seen here in a long, long time. But I will say that Eddie O coming out of his summer cage to proclaim on The Score that Campbell was merely a "serviceable" fifth d-man to be a shameful and pathetic towing of the company line that robs him of whatever credibility he had danging by a thread.

I know Campbell was always up against it here with a section of Hawks fans. He was the high-priced acquisition who didn't hit or wasn't big, and in a town that still can't appreciate Brian Urlacher fully that was always going to be a problem. I think it says a lot for 51 Phantom that for the most part, he won a majority of them over. Sure, they'll still be relieved at the contract being gone but it's hard to find a fan who didn't appreciate what Campbell brought. And we never heard a peep from Campbell himself about the initial booing that greeted him here. As always, Campbell handled that like an adult, just like he handled everything else.

But on the ice, Campbell was something the Hawks hadn't had in...well, it's probably Doug Wilson. Maybe Gary Suter on a good day, but probably not. They tried to fill it with Paul Coffey and Phil Housely when they were more entranced by early-bird dinners, but that never worked. But Campbell finally provided a d-man who could skate you from out of trouble to attack all by himself. He was a one-man zone-buster, and with Duncan Keith still struggling to put all the pieces of his game together at the dawn of 2008, Campbell was unique in that sense.

Sure, that first year was rocky at times as he struggled with a #3 role and justifying his paycheck as well as the emergence of Duncan Keith filling in a lot of what we thought Campbell would do as well as Q finding a home for him. There were defensive gaffes, some iffy offensive play (though he did put up 50 points that year), and just general uneveness. Fans grew impatient. But for me it came all together in that first Vancouver series. Campbell was the best player on the ice for the entirety of that first epic duel, as every time the Canucks tried to run Campbell he evaded them, smiled, and rushed the play the other way. I can't count how many times he broke the Canucks down in the neutral zone.

The confidence from that clearly dripped over to the following year. From the end of November '09-January '10, Campbell was the Hawks best player. Not just defensemen, but best player. During a 3-0 demolition of an admittedly beat up Detroit team, Campbell put on a performance that's one of the best I've ever seen. Constantly scooping up rebounds in his own end and rushing the other way, the Wings didn't have an answer. There was something about the grace that Campbell could do that, with such calm and confidence when he was on. Keith, while more effective, always seems a bit more frantic.

Campbell's form dipped, and then he got hurt, and the Hawks were lost. But he returned just in time, with the seas getting awfully choppy against Nashville. Campbell navigated that Predator trap better than anyone on the roster, and then continued laughing at the Canucks on the way to the promiseland. And whatever else, he'll have the primary assist on the goal that ended 49 years of waiting and dread. That's something.

He started last year hurt, and ended it hurt, and we could see how much the Hawks missed him. In between, he was far and away the Hawks best d-man. He even wrestled the last-minute close-out duties from Keith for a stretch there. The points subsided, but the defensive play got better. Campbell knew what was needed and provided it. And he was the only voice sounding the alarm that we were in a dressing room that often hid from the truth more often than it confronted it.

I immensely enjoyed watching Campbell play, and aside from the roster ramifications I will genuinely miss doing so. What saddens me is that when Campbell returns with the Panthers, he'll probably get booed by swaths in the 300 Level when he touches the puck. And that will be completely unfair. But it won't be as many as when he first started, and that's down to 51 Phantom.

Best of luck, Brian. You'll be missed.