It didn't take long for Dale Tallon to make his mark on the Florida Panthers. Over the course of two weeks fans of all teams were awed as Tallon and Mike Santos drafted 10 prospects and brought in 10 new roster players to completely reshape and reinvigorate the Panthers. The players drafted this year should all be considered long-term projects, but the trades and signings made were for real NHL players with real NHL contracts. Each player brought in has different qualities and concerns, but the objective as always is to make the Panthers a better team.
After signing a big contract with Chicago, Brian Campbell was a labeled as an 'untradeable' player. No, not because he was Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, but because no other team would possibly consider taking in the $7.1 million cap hit he lugs around. Well, the untradeable player was traded, and the Panthers will have Campbell for quite a while. Brian Campbell brings a lot more to the Panthers than his two way game and a hulking contract; in fact what Campbell brought to the Panthers is worth its weight in gold. More after the jump.
#51 / Defenseman / Florida Panthers
May 23, 1979
Let's look at the immediate history of Brian Campbell:
Brian Campbell signed with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 1st 2008 with an eight year, $57 million contract (the GM offering the deal? Dale Tallon.) Campbell would put up 58, 38 and 27 point seasons with the Blackhawks (his second and third seasons were limited to around 65 games) before being traded at the 2011 Entry Draft for Rostislav Olesz, who carried his own big contract. Contracts aside, the Panthers easily won the trade, but the ripple the Campbell move sent through the NHL would have a much bigger effect on the Panthers just days later.
The intangibles that Campbell brought to the Panthers was overshadowed by his contract, but the credibility did not go unnoticed by the soon to be unrestricted free agents. Days later, pending UFA Tomas Kopecky signed with the Panthers. On July 1st and 2nd, seven UFAs signed deals with Florida. The faith Campbell showed in Tallon by waiving his no-trade clause with the recent Stanley Cup champions to come to a lowly rebuilding team started a chain reaction of signings and trades that completely overhauled the roster.
Say what you will about Campbell's contract, at this point it's hardly relevant. In the future when Campbell is older and the Panthers youth are looking for raises, go ahead and bring it up. But for whom it may concern, personally I would have made the trade for a Rick DiPietro contract if it meant bringing 3 new lines and a sense of competition to a Florida team which was once comprised of AHL callups and assured roster spots. Sure, the 2011 free agent class wasn't spectacular, but the Panthers signed more legitimate players than any other team, whether they were overpaid or not. For that we can all thank Brian Campbell.
So far, all I've written is about what Campbell has done for the Panthers without even practicing with the team, let alone suiting up for the 2011-12 season. The addition of Campbell to the blueline replaces the offensive minded Dennis Wideman and helps account for the loss of leadership after Bryan McCabe and Bryan Allen were shipped out. After the initial trade for Campbell, Chicago fans balanced their relief of shedding his contract with discontent that one of their best penalty killers was leaving. Campbell devoured minutes last season averaging nearly 23 minutes a game (roughly Jason Garrison minutes). Campbell also finished first on the team in +/- at 28, while his fellow defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith finished 0 and -1, respectively.
Of course, most expectations are for Campbell to produce offensively thus filling the hole left by Wideman. This expectation comes after finishing four consecutive seasons with 40+ points (including a 62 point season in 07-08) scoring anywhere from 5 to 12 goals. Campbell's stats as a full time NHLer:
Granted, these numbers were put up while Campbell played for good teams, but that doesn't mean he can't play at that level again. In general, player's points will go down when moving to a worse team, and improve once moved to a better team, but that's not always the case. Just ask Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester what happened to their production after leaving Florida. The point is, Campbell's production did slow each year in Chicago, but anything can happen this year with a team unlike anything Florida fans have seen in recent years. Even if Campbell doesn't net 40 points next year, he is still an offensive catalyst, powerplay quarterback and stays out of the penalty box. Add to that Campbell's success in the postseason and you've got yourself a very good defenseman.
I'll say this: yes Campbell is grossly overpaid. Campbell's contract made Olesz's seem like nothing. But look at it this way: Dale Tallon had 100 bajillion dollars to spend this offseason, and at least he got every last bit of bang for his buck. It wasn't Tallon's choice to raise the cap floor to ridiculous amounts, and since the salary cap seems to keep on inflating every year, maybe $7.14 million/year will be reasonable when Campbell's contract is up. Right now, Campbell's contract is ridiculous, but only because it was viewed in the context of the cap-strapped Blackhawks organization. With a rebuilding team like Florida (who by the way is just $1.5 million over the cap floor) there really isn't much cause for alarm. Campbell is too good of a player to overlook because you want to pinch pennies. That's why the old Panthers failed. Maybe Campbell himself isn't worth $7.14 million, but the credibility and publicity he spread through the UFA's was. And at this point in the Panthers' rebuild, we'll take it.