Florida Panthers' Brian Campbell: Does he remain among elite of NHL blueliners?

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Just how good is Brian Campbell? He's been quite impressive in the past; 429 points in 838 career games, a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010-2011, and a Lady Byng winner in 2011-2012. He is known as an offensively gifted defenseman, a player capable of quarterbacking a powerplay and helping generate offense from the back end. He is currently signed with the Panthers through 2015-2016. As an aging player (he's currently age 34) his play and production are expected to decline soon. This year, however, Campbell played well on a dismal Panthers team. And so, exactly how good is Brian Campbell? (all stats taken from, at all situations.)

What do the stats tell us about "Soupy"? He's the best defenseman the Panthers have, as indicated by his plus/minus and average TOI. Campbell is third in the league in TOI, eating up 26:57 a game on average, or about 44.2% of the Panthers' total ice time this season. Despite this, his (+\-) is only -6, while the total Panther goal differential is -72. 44.2% of -72 is -32; so despite the fact that Campbell plays immense amounts of time, he has managed to stay better in terms of plus minus than what his average should be if it was based solely on time.

Looking at goals for percentage (goals for/goals total), which is a stat more useful for hypothetical calculations, we see a similar story. This season, the Panthers' GF% was a dismal 41.8%, good for 29th in the league. Campbell is at 49.7% GF% when he is on the ice, or +13.2% GFR (goals for relative, meaning Campbell's stats are subtracted from the team total and then compared to his stats.) Comparing the Panthers with Campbell to without him on the ice shows what we had known from plus minus; the Panthers are much better with him than without.

In order to further delve into Campbell's stats, however, we must look first at the story of the Panthers' season. The Panthers have a CF% (Corsi For %) of 50.4%, which is good enough for 14th in the league. Possession and shots are not the Panthers' problem. The problem is the 4th worst 7.7% SH% (shooting %) and 2nd worst 89.4 SV% (save %). The combined total of these two (PDO) is a dismal 97.9, good enough for worst in the league. These stats show what the "eye test" revealed; the Panthers play a solid enough possession game, but do not 1) generate enough high quality scoring chances 2) finish on the scoring chances they get 3) have adequate goaltending and 4) have the ability to keep other teams from generating high quality scoring chances.

The Panthers' CF% and GF% with Campbell go up to 54.8% (+7.8% CFR) and 49.7% (+13.2 GFR) respectively, with Campbell on the ice. The PDO of the Panthers with Campbell on the ice is 99.0; meaning that the Panthers score more and play better defense with Campbell on the ice.

Two explanations for these statistics are present. 1) Campbell is a good luck charm, or 2) he makes the Panthers play better, to the point where they look almost like a decent level NHL team. For GFR, Campbell is the 8th best in the league, ahead of notable players such as Ryan Suter, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Zdeno Chara, and Duncan Keith.

It's logical to assume that Brian Campbell, as a talented defenseman, would be more statistically significant to a lesser team such as the Panthers, then say, Zdeno Chara to the Bruins. In terms of his possession and Corsi stats, this is evident. Giving Campbell Chara's PDO stats, and the Panthers the PDO stats of the Bruins, Campbell's GF% and GFR% stats change to 56.6% and +4.5%, respectively. Not bad, and actually higher caliber in the league, nearly identical to Slava Voynov's current stats. (Voynov is also considered a high caliber offensive minded defenseman... Coincidence? (yes, most likely... But still the stats are nice.)). This isn't to say that Campbell is only as talented as Voynov, but that he has the potential to put up impressive stats in terms of Corsi and goals for (Voynov also plays for the Kings, who are a very high Corsi and goals for % team).

Though Campbell is considered offensive, his points production this year hasn't necessarily been up to his usually caliber, or near the caliber of fellow defensemen in the league (Campbell's 37 points put him at 31st in the league). This is only the tip of the iceberg, however, and when looking deeper into the subject, Campbell actually appears to have had a much more successful season than originally indicated. Eric T from Outnumbered looks into the correlation between the secondary assist and player skill, and from that study, we see that there is little to no correlation or use for the second assist in measuring talent, and it's more dependent on luck and the overall skill of the team. (Yes, I understand the post takes data from forwards; I contacted Eric, and he said that though he cannot find the specific data on defensemen, he remembers it being even less correlated than it is for forwards.) With this in mind, we look at points 1 (P1, goals plus primary assists) and see Campbell raises slightly into 26th among blueliners. Even further adding to the disparity between his point totals and his offensive skills, Campbell has been deployed about equally across the three zones (31% offensive, 37.8 neutral zone, and 31.2 defensive), while offensive defenseman with more points such as Karlsson, Doughty, Yandle, Barrie, Krug, and Keith, receive more offensive oriented usage. Also, Campbell receives ample time on the powerplay, but the Panthers' powerplay has been the league's worst this year at a dismal 10%, good for only 27 goals on the year.

Where then, could Campbell's production be at? For this example, we will take the stats of Duncan Keith, whom I believe plays a similar game to Brian Campbell. Giving Campbell the secondary assists of Duncan Keith, for hypothetical purposes, raises Campbell's total point production from 37 to 59. Give the two the same number of powerplay points, and Campbell's production further increases to 68 points. In this situation, he would pass Duncan Keith for 2nd in total points for defensemen. With a talented team and a powerplay that is effective, Brian Campbell would have a much, much higher point production. Though this is common sense almost, it can sometimes be overlooked when measuring just how talented a player he is.

Campbell has shown he can shoulder the defense load this year with his play, being able to contribute immensely to the team's ability to keep pucks out of the net (at least in comparison to where the team would be without him). Due to this, however, he hasn't been able to contribute to the team as he can offensively due to the team having to rely on him defensively.

With that being said, the logical conclusion would be to find a defensive counterpart for Campbell, though it may be just as beneficial to let Campbell stay in his current role for the Panthers and serve as a mentor/role model for offensive talents in the system (ex. Matheson, Weegar, McCoshen). The one point I think we can all agree on, however, is that it is safe to consider Brian Campbell in the top 20 defensemen in the league, at least for the time being.

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