Blackhawks Confidential

Campbell sustains successful rehab from salary overdose and other irrational highs

campbellcolumbus.jpgWhile Duncan Keith battles Washington's Mike Green to see who wins the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman, the rehabilitation of Brian Campbell continues to be one of the best comeback stories of the year in Chicago.

Campbell's 30 points might not rival Green's high of 46 for defensemen and Keith's 43, but compared to where Campbell stood a year ago at this time as a reviled multi-millionaire in Chicago who was judged a failed attempt to splurge by the team, his recovery from a salary overdose illustrates how cohesive the Blackhawks have become in their strong bid to secure the Stanley Cup championship for the first time since 1961.

Campbell does lead both Green and Keith in one category. He is a plus-19, one better than teammate Keith and two up on Green. That has Campbell tied for third best in the league in plus-minus among defensemen, not far behind leader Jeff Schultz of Washington (plus-26) and Brent Seabrook's plus-24 for Chicago.

If you want to carry the theme farther, Niklas Hjalmarrson logs in 11th in plus-minus. That gives Chicago four defensemen in the top 11 of the NHL. Washington and Vancouver each have two defensemen in this elite group, but the fact the Blackhawks feature four is more proof that we should have a special season on our hands.

And we might have to get past Vancouver and Washington in the postseason to grab hold of a long elusive Stanley Cup. The Canucks and Capitals are two teams that could play a crucial role in how this season shakes down for the Blackhawks.

You shouldn't judge Campbell's recovery solely by statistics. By his own admission he was looking for peace of mind after struggling to live up to his giant-sized salary last year and finding that the more he tried to show his play justified the expenditure, the more a mountain of unpaid debts buried him.

When the season ended and he was the team's fifth best scorer with 52 points (7 goals, 4 power-play) and a plus-5, it still didn't seem quite enough for a $7 million dollar man. Campbell was eighth in scoring in the postseason with 10 points (2 goals). Not bad. But again more was expected. It always will be from such a high wage earner.

There seems to be no doubt Campbell was a victim of irrational expectations last season, even his own. His 45 assists and 52 points last season were his career highs, after all. What more did anyone think would happen than that?

His 6 goals were 6 below his career-best of 12 for the '05-06 Buffalo Sabres, but he had never really been much of a goal scorer. His efficiency was in skating, even showing off with that spin move he so enjoys, and moving the puck with quickness and accuracy. Those traits are important, but can't easily be defined unless you watch how he progresses and advances the play game-in. game-out.

His plus-19 is the best he has turned out since he was a plus-28 for the '06-'07 Sabres, scoring 48 points and playing all 82 games for the first time in his career. Campbell is deserving of credit for his ability to show up and play every night. He played all 82 for Chicago last year and so far all 47 this season, trying to earn respect and his big money simply by focusing on the task at hand every game.

Sometimes you can't pay enough in pro sports to get that kind of personal doggedness and persistence and dedication to the craft. Campbell isn't the kind that has shirked any of those duties of showing up, as some loafers do in stealing their salaries from the bench while thumbing their nose at playing each and every game.

Other than goalie Cristobal Huet, no one has been more of a lightning rod for criticisms than Campbell. The tousled redhead has not reacted like a red-ass to the fingerpointing critics. He just seems to shake his head in acceptance and try to do better, saving the acrimony for others to bat around.

Keith and Seabrook are playing for Team Canada next month. There was a time when Campbell was rated more highly than both and targeted for an Olympic appearance on Team Canada by experts who thought he couldn't miss.

But maybe it's better that Campbell get some rest during the Olympics as he tries to play another 82 in the regular season and then plow his way to a championship with a playoff performance that will stamp his reputation as paid-in-full for years to come.

Not as an overpaid defenseman, weighed down by his bank account, but as a defenseman who paid back Chicago and its fans in copious amounts of joy for a job well-done.

Rehabs are tricky business. There can be slips along the way. It appears, though, that Campbell has found a balance in his life between knowing a man's worth isn't judged by finances alone and realizing that all he can do is his best on a consistent basis.

Here's hoping he continues to skate that thin line between expectation and effort.

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11 Comments

Northernhawk said:

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Come on Mike, you must have something nice to say about the "Frenchman's" play in net last night?

Mike Kiley said:

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I didn't know it was my turn to be Blackhawks goodwill ambassador. Well, I'm all for French kissing. Let's see the love affair continue on that long winding road ahead.

Northernhawk said:

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This pic's for you my friend.

Mike Kiley said:

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Will the Huet civil war never end? Untold millions of Hawks fans, brothers and sisters both north and south, have been torn asunder by the unanswerable question of whether Huet is playoff ready. Can't we all just get along? No, I reckon not. Fire away when ready.

iplagitr said:

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Bottom line is I think we're all way too itchy for the team and either goalie to play a perfect game every single night. Obviously no goalie can be that consistent.

Since the NJ Devils have a comparable stingy defensive to the Hawks, and they have one of the best goaltenders of all time, I took a quick look at Marty Brodeur's numbers so far this year. Marty has had some brilliant games, but guess what -- he's also had some clunkers. Further info:

- For starters, both Niemi and Huet have a better GAA than Brodeur.
- Four times this season Brodeur and the Devils have surrendered 5 goals in a game - in all four games he faced 27 shots or less.
- Five times this season Brodeur / Devils have given up 4 goals. Three of those games he faced less than 20 shots.
- One game Broduer was pulled after 3 goals allowed on 6 shots.
- Brodeur has 6 shutouts this season. Huet and Niemi combined have 8.
- The Devils have lost 12 games this year with one of the best goalies in history on their team.
- The Hawks have lost 11 games with Huet and Niemi.

Enough said - H&N haven't been perfect, but I think our guys our doing pretty well.

cubby23(eric) said:

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Marty Brodeur also has the Cups and the proven track record to ease or satiate Devils fans concerns. Huet just doesn't have that resume. If he did, you probably wouldn't hear the restlessness a lot of Hawk fans have.

Expectations are high, that's what I chalk up a lot of the goalie-talk to. Look at Hiller, he plays arguably his best game against the Hawks at the UC, and then he has a clunker in LA where he gets pulled. It happens to every goalie at some time or another. The key is to not have it happen down the stretch and in the playoffs when the prize is on the line.

fattybeef said:

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Nice write up. I think Campbell has had an excellent season, especially the last month and a half he has been a rock. Taking hits, dishing them out, moving the puck well and of course scoring. Not scoring like Dunks but he is not the liability we were seeing at times last year and I have been impressed with how he has handled his game. Definatley overpaid at the 7 mil he is getting paid. Around 5 would be more reasonable, but that summer was also a bit of a free agent mess in terms of inflated prices so its tough to fault the Hawks for signing him. Would you not want him on your team right now? Right now it looks like a good decision and if there wasnt a cap would we even be complaining? Also, D-men seem to age very well in the NHL so if he continues this pace for the next 4 and a half years maybe it was the big money at that point in time? Should be exciting to see.

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, any truth to the rumor that Mr. Campbell has a deal with W. Rockwell's booze biz to distribute his forthcoming Special Edition Scotch Broth (laced with 7 year old single malt whisky, natch) Campbell's Soup?

VegasHawksFan said:

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The transformation of the fan base has been just as stunning as the team turn around. The team goes from no playoffs to WCF and the fan base went from no optimism to contract evaluating GM's. Usually, I don't disagree with specific comments about weak spots in the play of Campbell and Huet. What is often missing though is reasonable context. If Tallon sits on his hands a few years ago, he perpetuates the message that this team is concerned only with making just enough changes to stay barely competitive like they had done for years. Stepping out paying up in a market when there really weren't many options available sent a message that this team was serious. Campbell and Huet may be overpaid for their services, but I believe they both brought something missing AT THE TIME they were signed and both have contributed meaningfully since. Whether we make the jump to WCF in one year without them is a good question to ask, but I would go a step further and ask if guys like Madden and Hossa decide to come here without having seen the Hawks take the gambles they did. Statistically, neither one is going to live up to their contracts and some people are never going to be happy with that. Without them though, I think the team makes less progress then it did, is less competitive then it is now and is less of a draw to veterans who know what it takes to win.

iplagitr said:

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Excellent post, Knuckle. And IMHO, you're absolutely right on. I think the same could be said for signing Havlat to the big numbers, although no one complained about him as much. There was a time just a few years ago when no decent free agents really wanted to come to the Hawks - huge salary or not. I remember when the Hawks tried to get Brad Richards from the Lightning just a couple seasons ago and he basically said flat-out that he had no interest in playing for Chicago's team. Times have changed, and I'll bet he's hating himself for that decision. Can you imagine how fast he'd jump at the chance to play here now?

VegasHawksFan said:

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You made me think of something that struck me the other night. When I saw Pahlsson lining up on the dot, I was wondering if he was happy with his choice for the money. I honestly don't remember now if he was lining up against Madden for that face off, but that's the obvious comparison. I liked Sammy, but I like Madden more and he is clearly having the time of his life. From quotes I have seen from Madden, it's not like he didn't have offers to go elsewhere, and for multi year deals. He knows he's a rental player but felt this was his best chance to win a third cup.

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