Last summer, the youngest team in the National Hockey League needed some help. So they spent some money.
Brian Campbell is a fast-paced, exciting to watch, offensive-minded defender who signed a lucrative contract to help bolster the blue line for the Chicago Blackhawks last summer. And by lucrative, I mean five years at $7.14 million per season.
At the press conference introducing Campbell to the Chicago media, he said he chose Chicago because he looked forward to bringing the great winning tradition back to Chicago, and hearing the legendary roar before and during Hawks home games.
The irony now is, for the Hawks to bring the Stanley Cup to Chicago, does Campbell have to go?
For his first year's check, Campbell performed fairly well on paper. He scored 52 points, good for tenth among all NHL defensivemen, and helped the young Hawks bring the roar back to the United Center as they advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
But despite the prestige his name and red hair brought to the jersey sales for the Hawks, Campbell found himself as the third defender on the roster behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
He also found himself in the dog house with fans late in the season because of a number of crucial turnovers and for not being a physical presence on the blue line. He was certainly one of the fastest skaters in the league, but Chicago fans wanted to see him hit someone, not use that speed to avoid people.
So now it's the first offseason of the Hawks rebirth. One of the great hallmarks of the 2008-09 season in Chicago was players stepping up and earning playing time that wasn't expected coming into the season. Players like Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker were two young stars that certainly established themselves in the rotation for the Hawks.
Barker is perhaps the biggest, and most intriguing, piece to this discussion. The former third overall pick in the draft has many similar offensive skills to Campbell: he skates well, handles the puck well in traffic, is a good passer and, especially in the playoffs, has shown the ability to get the puck into the net. He also scored 40 points this past season in just 68 games.
Because Campbell doesn't often see minutes on the power play because he isn't considered an exceptional defensive defender (does that make sense?), being able to defer to the 23-year old Barker and his significantly lower salary might play a role in Campbell's future in Chicago.
The other intriguing part of the Barker issue is that he is a restricted free agent this summer. That means the Hawks will either have to pay him better than his base salary of the past few years (which was under $1 million per season), accept draft picks when someone else pays him, or trade him.
Another name that figures to play a significant role in this decision is Matt Walker. Walker's a 29-year old unrestricted free agent who is more physical than both Barker and Campbell. Coming off a year in which he made only $600,000 means the combination of Walker and Barker could be had for likely half of Campbell's $7.14 million price tag in 2009-10.
The Blackhawks sold out every home game last year, and their merchandise sales are through the roof, so having enough money to pay the salaries isn't as much of a problem in Chicago as it is for teams like the Phoenix Coyotes.
But money becomes an issue when names like Marty Havlat and Samuel Pahlsson are unrestricted this summer, while Versteeg, Barker, Dave Bolland and Ben Eager are restricted free agents, the team needs to figure out a way to pay some of their core players.
And next summer brings big paydays for restricted free agents Keith and young superstars captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
So money suddenly becomes a big issue for one of the more popular stories in professional sports.
There is no doubt that a player of Campbell's caliber, and popularity, would have teams interested. Whether or not a team would be willing to pay his salary is another issue all together.
How, and for what, the Hawks would trade the man labeled as the answer to the team's defensive woes just a year ago, would be a big step for an evolving management group. General Manager Dale Tallon now has one of the best minds in the history of the game, Scott Bowman, sitting by his side as the team approaches its biggest crossroads in nearly 20 years.
Maybe moving a star like Campbell is in the cards.
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