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Florida Panthers Season in Review: Brian Campbell

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One of only two Panthers to play all 82 games this past season, Brian Campbell enters the final year of his contract without having missed a tilt in a Panthers jersey.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Up next in our Season in Review series is Iron Man Brian Campbell, who will pass Jay Bouwmeester for the most consecutive games played in a Panthers jersey (Jay Bo finished at 342 when he was traded, while Campbell is currently at 294) if he remains healthy and plays at least the first 49 games of the 2015-2016 season.

Eye Test

Let's start with the obvious. Campbell is a smooth skating, puck moving defenseman with good passing ability. He excels at breaking the puck out of his zone with possession, and, as we've touched on before, is incredibly patient with the puck on his stick.

He also directs traffic while breaking the puck out of the zone...

And makes sure that he gives his partner ample time and space to effectively clear the puck out of the zone.

While in the offensive zone, he is incredibly reluctant to shoot, which may hurt the team; he passes over several quality shooting opportunities despite the fact that his shot isn't terrible (his shot definitely isn't good, but he's usually accurate and can get it off in a hurry).

His reluctance to shoot is probably exacerbated by his passing skills, which are clearly above average. Campbell doesn't try to do too much with the puck when he has it on his stick in the offensive zone, and moves it quickly and efficiently, giving his teammates time and space to create.

Continuing with the blatantly obvious, Campbell also has issues inside his own defensive end. He loses his man frequently, and gets out-muscled in the slot often.

And again:

And again.

I think you get the point.

None of this should be new to people who have watched Campbell play before. The casual observer can note that he skates and passes very well, breaks the puck out of the zone intelligently, creates very few scoring chances for himself, and is prone to letting his man roam free in the slot.

Before we go onto some more subtle aspects of the 36-year-old's game, let me give you some background on playing defense in lacrosse.

A common thing for defensive coaches to yell is the phrase "On the hands!". What this means is that the defender, who usually has a stick much longer than his opponent's, should be getting his stick on the other player's hands. This prevents the offensive player from catching, throwing, or controlling the ball properly, and offensive players will usually try to prevent defenders from doing this to them.

The best defenders are usually the ones that can disrupt the offensive player and steal the ball. In hockey, this would be the same as a player who steals the puck from his opponents, either by checking them or getting a stick on the puck.

One thing I learned in lacrosse, however, was that I could play defense just as well as other, more skilled guys by simply preventing my man from catching the ball. As I kept my stick on him before he even received the ball, his teammates wouldn't pass to him. In order to get open, he had to take himself out of the play. My value, then, didn't lie in directly stealing the ball; my value came from disrupting the opposition's offense, which led to bad passes and poor shot selection as teams failed to properly play their offensive system.

In hockey, the perfect example for this type of defender is Campbell. It's not that he prevents players from receiving the puck; it's that he disrupts the opposition's offense, and doesn't allow them to utilize their offensive systems.

Take a look at some examples. Here, Jordan Eberle gets the puck and turns, probably expecting to see space. Instead of backing off, however, which is what a conventional defenseman would do, Campbell challenges Eberle, and doesn't let him really start skating. The Edmonton forward doesn't know what to do with the puck, and resorts to dumping it in. Aaron Ekblad chases it down, and turns it back the other way.

In this screenshot, we see Campbell on the left hand side of the screen. He notices that Edmonton is about to come up with the puck, and is peeling back towards the boards.

As the Oilers are starting their break out, Campbell is off screen. He reappears right before they leave the zone.

He isn't skating backwards, but he's still able to come across the middle and prevent the puck carrier from making any passes into the middle.

With nowhere else the go, Benoit Pouliot is forced to dump the puck in. Campbell doesn't have to worry about pivoting, and beats the forechecker to the puck.

It's not your conventional turnover, but the Cats end up with the puck all the same.

Campbell's game is full of these unique defensive plays that don't exactly look impressive, but that do just enough to throw opposing forwards off of their game. The veteran is on the decline, but his style of play should give him at least another year as a top pairing defenseman.

Campbell looks like a weak defenseman because he gets beat in the slot so often. What people don't realize, however, is that his play outside of the slot is so superb that he doesn't really get beat anywhere else. The slight nuances in his game separate from his a lot of other NHL defenseman, but he can be just as effective, if not more effective, than some of those top guys.

Statistical Breakdown

Player SAT% RelSAT% SCF% RelSCF% dCorsi P/60
Brian Campbell 54.1% 4.7% 55.8% 6.7% 1.15 0.54

Again, let's state the obvious; Campbell dominates puck possession, and going off of his dCorsi, is clearly a top pairing defenseman at the NHL level.

When it comes to percentages, however, I think we start to see some decline in his value. Over the past four seasons, in 5600 minutes played, his on ice shooting percentage is 6.1%. I don't know how much of that can be traced back to the defender; his shot is weak, but as we noted in our breakdown of the defensemen's passing statistics, Campbell creates more offense than any other defenseman on the team, especially in the slot. I think that the team's shooting percentage during that time (a paltry 6.9%) plays a bigger overall role in Campbell's low shooting percentage and point production.

I still think that it's safe to say that Campbell has a negative effect on shooting percentage, though it stems from his shot, and not from his lack of play-making skills. Our own JC Smith put it best in the comments section of a previous post;  talking about Campbell in relation to the team's power play, but I think the point regarding the opposition being able to focus on other players due to the lack of a dangerous shot from Campbell rings true at 5 on 5 as well.

I do think one-dimensional players on the PP are not really used correctly- and of course this means Brian Campbell in particular. Big reason he is open for Huberdeau in screen shot one is precisely because #1 Tampa knows his shot is terrible, #2 knows he probably won’t shoot because of that...

Teams are permitted to cheat away from our off-point because they know that Campbell can’t and won’t shoot.

If the team can get its overall shooting percentage up, then it should bode well for Campbell's offensive production. I just wouldn't be expecting too much out of him next season.

That doesn't mean he won't still be valuable. The vast majority of Campbell's value actually comes from his defensive play, as this Hextally visual of his 2014-2015 season shows us.

He helps the team generate shots in the high slot, but given his slightly negative influence on shooting percentage, that basically evens out to league average. In the defensive end, however, team's get very little off of him. Even in the slot, where he is a weak defenseman, opposing forwards still get a below average number of shots off.

Conclusion

Brian Campbell's value to the Panthers, despite his flaws, is still immense. Though he may not have the ability to elevate shooting percentage, his ability to vastly reduce shot rate in his own zone results in the Cats outscoring the opposition when he's on the ice.

I don't expect to see much decline in his puck possession play, especially because his style isn't hard on the body, and allows him to be effective despite his smaller size.

His main job in 2015-2016 will be as a puck mover. Get the puck to guys who can create with it; the team's top two lines will be more than capable of generating goals.