In Defense of Number 51

By Jon

I could have written this post in mid-February at the trade deadline. I’m sure I could write it in a month-and-a-half or so, when free agency opens open and he signs a whopping contract. But with the latest batch of Brian Campbell bashing hot off the presses, I figured it was time to break my silence.

All season long, Brian Campbell has been under the proverbial microscope as much as any player in the league. I could link to dozens of posts that have criticized a Soupy giveaway, his alleged lack of composure, a quote in the media, or even his drinking habits (about a quarter of the way down the post.) There has been an incredible backlash against Campbell in the Buffalo blogosphere, and it’s something that I have a very hard time understanding.

From the end of the lockout until his trade, Campbell was a valuable part of this team. He played more minutes than anyone else. He anchored our power-play (surely it wasn’t a coincidence that the PP went to hell after he left). He was a rather personable fellow that was a fan favorite with the mainstream media and the non-blogging contingent of WNY. He stayed healthy, which was a rarity for anyone in our defense corps the last few years. Yet, he has gotten ripped apart over the past few months by several of my blogging contemporaries. It doesn’t add up.

As far as I can tell, the anti-Soupy movement started with the weeks before the deadline. The trade/contract talks obviously got to him. You could see it in his play: His production dropped, he was giving the puck away more, and he looked as if he were playing scared. You could hear it in his voice when he spoke to the media. He let non-hockey issues affect him. But is that the source of the contempt against him?

More recently, a couple of quotes from Campbell have offended some bloggers. The first one came when asked to compare the Sharks to the 05-06 Sabres of the past few years:

Back in Buffalo we had a good mix of young and veteran guys who we weren’t going to let down. I said back in Buffalo I wasn’t going to let guys down like Chris Drury, Mike Grier, Daniel Briere, or Teppo Numminen. In this locker room it’s the same thing. I have too much respect for guys like Jeremy Roenick, Joe Thornton, and again, Mike Grier.

Sorry folks, I find it pretty hard to milk something negative out of that quote. There are tons of similarities between the two teams, and Campbell correctly paid homage to the vets on both squads. It was hardly a slap on the face to anyone on the 05-06 team; They were young (Soupy included. Remember that he was enjoying his breakout year, of sorts), and those four guys were leading the way. A pretty harmless comment that should be viewed as complimentary to the Sabres, if anything. Moving on….

I’m definitely enjoying my time here. The guys in the locker room have been great. The organization has been great. I had to deal with (trade talks and upcoming free agency) all year. It kind of got annoying. It’s just fun to go out there and play hockey again.

Can’t we all agree that the trade/contract talks were annoying? Didn’t we all let out a collective sigh of relief when he finally was traded, not because we lost him, but because the whole ordeal was finally over? Again, I think that if anyone took offense from that quote, they were looking for something to pick Campbell apart for.

Brian Campbell is hardly a defensive stalwart. As a player who is widely considered an offensive defenseman, people seem to criticize every defensive misstep that he makes. He isn’t a player who is going to be matched up against the oppositions top line (although SJ seems to be experimenting with that and admittedly, it’s not going so well.) He’s a guy who will skate the puck up the ice, man the point on the power-play, and start a rush from the back end. He will step up when needed, and has a knack for setting up his teammates. There isn’t anyone on the current team or the free agent market that can replace what he brought to the team from an offensive standpoint, and that’s why the negativity toward him makes no sense to me.

No, Campbell is not going to be worth the contract he signs this summer. From a financial standpoint, he is a bit overrated. But the fact of the matter remains: Brian Campbell brought something to this team that no one else on the current roster can, and the Sabres are far worse off without him.

6 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    Campbell is just the latest of many who have gone elsewhere because this team couldn’t/wouldn’t throw out the dough to pay him. Expect more non playoff seasons if this trend continues.

    pjf-USRT

  2. M.J.

    I think my main issue with Brian, and maybe it s CHICK thing, is that his attitude did like, a complete 180 when he got to San Jose. yes, I am sure he was relieved, as were we all, but it seemed by his general overall persona with the media in San Jose, his whole devastated behavior the month, month and a half prior to the trade was just an act.

    But again! I am a woman and we tend to read further into things than necessary…

  3. Dave

    I think its just a typical buffalonian thing, when we dont get what we want we just get pissed and hold very bad grudges…unfortunetly that happens quite too often..

    bruce smith…
    hasek…
    peca…
    dumont…
    drury…
    willis…well nevermind i dont care…
    the list goes on and on…

  4. Heather B.

    Jon, I actually agree with a lot of what you say here. I do think Campbell is very gifted offensively. I do think he brought a lot to the team and absolutely ate up minutes. I do think his absence was felt in certain areas especially on the power play. I do think that he was, for most of his time in Buffalo, extremely pleasant and accommodating.

    My problems with Campbell are these:

    1. He completely crumbled under the microscope of playing during contract negotiations. Signing a 6 to 7 million dollar contract is going to put him under another huge microscope and it’s going to make him a huge target for criticism when he plays poorly. Watching him fall apart in the weeks before the deadline doesn’t make me feel like he’s going to handle the responsibility and criticism that comes with a large contract very well.

    2. I think he and his agent are largely responsible for his contract talks being so “annoying.” He was the one who was making every single thought public. He was the one making obnoxious remarks like, “My price goes up every day.” His side was the one making announcements for everyone about bringing talks to a halt or not responding with a counteroffer, sometimes right before game time when of course it’s going to affect not just Campbell but every other player on the team. They were the ones who made a stink about a perfectly fair three year offer when there are talented players in the league (Joe Thornton being number one) who have signed similar extensions in the last year. If he wants the security of a six or seven year deal, more power to him. But don’t be a baby about it when one team doesn’t want to give you one.

    3. He’s pretty much sounded like a whiny brat since he left Buffalo. My problem with the quote you cited is not that he looked up to the guys in 05-06 or that he looks up to guys in San Jose. My problem is that, intentional or not, he sounds dismissive of the teammates he had in Buffalo THIS season. I thought the “We wanted to stay but Buffalo didn’t want to pay us” was obnoxious because one, he shouldn’t be speaking for other players and two, it’s not that hard to just be mature and let it go. His recent remarks about how San Jose’s locker room is the first room he’s been in where players are held accountable and take what each other says to heart is just a stupid remark to make. There’s no need for him to pump up the San Jose room by tearing down the Buffalo room. Even if he feels it’s true, it’s a slap in the face to the players he played with here, especially after his “Woe is me, I love my team and coaches and really want to stay in Buffalo” display.

    4. He’s a good hockey player but IMO not a game-changer. To me, his situation simply does not belong in the same conversation as Drury and Briere. This was not a case of the team fumbling negotiations. It was a case of the team deciding they didn’t value Campbell as much as Campbell values Campbell. It was them deciding that they don’t value Campbell more than Miller, Pominville, and Gaustad.

    I’m sure that someone is going to be willing to give Campbell a huge contract worth a lot of money for a lot of years. I’m also sure he’s not going to live up to.

    YMMV on that of course 😛

  5. Anne M

    I totally agree with Heather, especially #2 and #3. Campbell acted like an innocent bystander to his own contract negotiations and media coverage of same. Spare me the sob story, buddy. Additionally, not only did he act like he didn’t want to leave Buffalo, he cried and asked fans not to boo him when/if he comes back as a member of another team. Then he goes on to insult the other players in the room in Buffalo, from the past 10+ years. That includes players like James Patrick, Stu Barnes, Rhett Warrener, Jay McKee, Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Teppo Numminen, Ryan Miller, and Dave Andreychuk, just to name a few off the top of my head. None of those guys held anyone else in the room accountable? Sorry, that’s BS.

    Full disclosure: I never liked Campbell much, although I got fooled when he finally found some success as a Sabre after sucking for so long. I don’t care what kind of deal he gets elsewhere, and I would have been fine with him getting a reasonable deal in Buffalo. But for a guy who’s been in the NHL as long as he has, he still apparently has a lot to learn about when to shut up.

  6. Jon

    Some quality responses here. I think I’m going to expand it to a post in the coming days.