em>With the 2011-12 season sadly in the rear-view window, it’s once again time for The Rat Trick to take a look back at those who had the biggest impact on the the Florida Panthers. Over the coming days, we’ll look at review everyone who had key roles in the past season and give them the dreaded letter grade.
Today, we’ll focus on arguably the biggest acquisition the Panthers have made since they traded for Pavel Bure, defenceman Brian Campbell.
Games Played: 82
Plus/Minus rating: -9
Power Play Points: 31 (1 G, 30 A)
Minutes Played/Game: 28:00
If you want to pinpoint one defining moment of the Panthers 2011-12 season, it would have to be June 25, 2011. It was on that night that Campbell waived his no-trade clause to leave the Chicago Blackhawks and join Dale Tallon in Sunrise to help jumpstart Florida’s rebuild. Not only did the Cats get a quality, puck-moving defenseman who could quarterback the power play, but it was a message to everyone that the ways of the past decade for this franchise are over as they unloaded dead wood and brought a player who could make a difference.
The symbolic message wouldn’t have meant much without the on-ice performance to back it up. And perform he did. Campbell’s assists and total points were second only to Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, and like the young Swede, he was the biggest part in his team’s surprising season. And in a dressing room that was lacking leadership, Campbell (and his playoff experience and Stanley Cup ring), along with Ed Jovanovski, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Kopecky, were able to fill that void by committee. He was the first Panther to say that he expected this team to make the playoffs, setting the expectation that there would be no excuse for losing.
On the ice, he found instant chemistry with season-long defense partner Jason Garrison right from the start of preseason. Garrison can give some credit to Campbell for helping him finish with 16 goals as Soupy assisted on many of those goals. But it wasn’t only Garrison who benefited from his presence. Campbell was the ‘straw that stirred the Panther’s drink’ when it came to offense. He gave the team the puck-moving defensemen who’s greatest asset is getting the puck of out his defensive zone and getting it to his forwards quickly. But it was his ability to help transform what was the worst power play in the league the season before into one of the more dangerous units in the league, finishing 7th overall with an 18.5% conversion rate. With the Panthers being below-average at even strength, the power play was not only a big reason the Cats captured their first division title in team history, but also it was the key factor in taking the New Jersey Devils to game seven in the first round of the playoffs.
Defensively, Campbell isn’t quite a shut-down d-man but he’s very good positionally which helped makes him the Cats most versatile defensemen. He led the league in ice time, playing a remarkable 26:53 minutes a game that included over four minutes a game in power play time, and over a minute on the penalty kill. And while he isn’t known for being a big hitter, ask Boston’s Brad Marchand if he can still deliver a ferocious blow.
Final Grade: A+. If there were a grade higher that A+, Campbell would deserve for it for everything he’s done for the organization over the past eleven months. He was often called ‘overpaid’ with his $7.1 million/year salary/cap hit while a member of the Blackhawks but with the season he turned in 2011-2012, that claim might no be easy to make as it can be argued that he played like an elite defenseman. But as noted, his presence in the dressing room was invaluable as Dale Tallon continued to ‘change the culture’ of a franchise that suffered through an unprecedented streak of futility. Mission accomplished and, by my way of thinking, #51 was the biggest reason for that.
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