Since we have no idea what happened last night in Minnesota, we’re taking the view that what happens in Minnesota stays in Minnesota, including injuries to Adam Burish.
In the late afternoon hours of July 1, 2008, then-general manager Dale Tallon finally executed the standard player contract which would allow the Blackhawks’ Head Coach to pencil in a name next to the words “Power Play Quarterback” on the virtual line-up card. With the signing of the eight-year pact with the former Sabre and Shark, Brian Campbell, at long last it seemed the Hawks had themselves a bona fide puck-moving defenseman to lead the power play, which in previous years (read: decade) did little to benefit the team. With two separate swoops of the pen, the Blackhawks answered its fans’ intense clamoring for such a player, and Hawk fans finally rested. It was, for Hawk fans, the seventh day.
It certainly started off well. In his first game as a Blackhawk, in Madison Square Garden, Campbell forced the puck up the boards in the Ranger zone, started to swoop behind the net, and clanged a bank-pass off the outside base of the Henrik Lundquist-tended goal that landed perfectly on a surprised Patrick Kane’s stick. Before falling over in awe of his new favorite teammate’s offensive proficiency, Kane managed to one-time the novel delivery into the net for the Hawks’ first goal of the season.
In the weeks that followed, impressed Hawk observers and pundits raved about Campbell’s abilities to skate the puck, and many even said the new Hawk was the best offensive defenseman to wear a Hawks’ sweater since Doug Wilson.
But, the honeymoon wouldn’t last. By November, fans who rose to cheer for October own-zone spin-o-ramas loudly decried Campbell’s perfectly itch-less trigger finger from the point and defensive ineptitude. By mid-season, Campbell’s first unit power play minutes dwindled, and, by March, he was booed mercilessly by fans who grew tired of his injurious high wire style. A Sunday afternoon in the United Center versus the hapless Colorado Avalanche marked his low point; Campbell was a –3 in the embarrassing loss.
Thankfully for Campbell, though, he turned his game around just in time for the playoffs. Where he had faltered before (see: Campbell’s playoff performance with San Jose in 2008), Campbell flourished, focusing on moving the puck quickly and showcasing his speed above all else. He played so well, many thought he was the Hawks’ most valuable player in the first round series against Calgary – a particularly important feat at the time, considering how Duncan Keith struggled – and he was a driving force against Vancouver, even inadvertently knocking out Pavol Demitra for much of the series.
Campbell’s 2009-’10 season will be a success if…
He manages to remain on the first unit power play all season. One thing’s for sure: over $7 million per season is quite a lot to spend on an NHL player. And, when that player shows an inability to do the one thing he’s paid to do, it can feel like team ownership is siphoning the amount in large bills directly from the pockets of the team’s faithful. There is little doubt Campbell’s season will be judged on the success of the power play, and to ensure he’s not dragged from the UC in an angry riot, the power play must be a top-ten unit.
He’s in the top ten for defensemen scoring. While many good players are at their best when unnoticed, Campbell’s flashy and productive play is easy to see and quantify. No question about it, even from those who defend Campbell: if you’re going to be paid like a top offensive defenseman, you have to produce like a top offensive defenseman. One expectation-filled season is down; he should be better offensively this time around.
Campbell’s 2009-’10 season will be a disappointment if…
He’s asked to play top-four minutes. One thing Campbell is not is a great defensive defenseman. With Matt Walker gone, someone needs to fill in late-game minutes. If it happens to be Campbell, God help us all.
He doesn’t get off to a fast start offensively. With the Hawks starting in Finland next weekend, it’s easy to see the team sputtering out of the gate, especially in its first month back in the States. With his big pay check and easy-to-quantify playing style, Campbell better not put himself in a position to be scapegoated; many will have no problem doing it.