Welcome to a new series from The Rat Trick. During the dog days of summer, NHL news can be scarce but hockey fans are an insatiable breed so to fill up some of those empty summer spaces, we will be doing individual profiles of the Florida Panthers players. In these profiles, we will dish on the players’ previous season, what we can expect next year and also take a look back at their careers. We hope these little pieces help all you Panther fans retain your sanity while we hold on in anticipation of the new season this fall.
To call 34 year old defenseman Brian Campbell the heartbeat of the Florida Panthers is a grave understatement. Look at the Panthers roster last year and you will realize Campbell was not only the heartbeat but the respiratory, digestive and central nervous systems as well. If we are to continue this Florida Panthers/human body analogy, we would say the Panthers last season were a frail old man shuffle stepping their way through the season with the help of a walker. Despite these dire circumstances, it was Brian Campbell who kept that old man shuffling along and not six feet under.
All this is an extremely round about way of saying Brian Campbell was the best Panther last season. On a team beset by injuries and rabid with youth, the veteran Campbell was exemplary in his consistent play on offense and defense. Last season Brian Campbell tallied 27 points in 48 games (8 goals 19 assists). He was tied as the third leading scorer on the Panthers and he averaged 26:25of ice time per game. That number is over five minutes more than any other Panther last season and it ranks third in the entire NHL.
It wasn’t all rosy for Campbell last season. He and fellow Panther defenseman Erik Gudbranson, ranked dead last in the NHL in +/- at -22 and he was needlessly called out by Kings head coach Darryl Sutter who referenced Campbell as an example of a player you do not want to aspire to be. You cannot use Campbell’s -22 rating to completely dismiss him as a useful defensive player. A high minus is inevitable when you are logging the most time on the team that gave up the most goals in the league. It becomes a chicken and egg question as to whether the Panthers gave up so many goals because Campbell was on the ice so much or if he was a high minus player because he logged 26 plus minutes a game on a team with weak goaltenders and a weak supporting cast. In Campbell’s favor is his decades worth of NHL experience that demonstrates that he can score a lot of points, log a lot of ice time and be a good defensive player on good hockey teams so as far as Sutter is concerned, its probably a bit unfair to pile on Campbell.
Another interesting aspect of Campbell’s 2012-13 season was his ability to up his goal production in the wake of losing power play scoring specialist Jason Garrison to free agency. Campbell who has never scored more than 12 goals in a season, scored eight this year in only 48 games. In the shortened season, Campbell managed to set a career high in power play goals with six. Clearly he was doing his part to fill the power play scoring void left by Garrison.
At 34 years of age, there is the ever-present fear that Campbell may be approaching the dreaded decline. So far, he has managed to stave off any deterioration in his game which is a testament to his skill and his ability to adapt. Take a look at his career numbers:
Since breaking out with the Buffalo Sabres, Campbell has been remarkably consistent. The following graph, charts Campbell’s point per game averages for each season of his career:
His last two seasons with the Panthers, 2011-13, Campbell has been right within the range of production that he has been in for most of his career.
This upcoming season could be Campbell’s last with the Panthers. With a salary that pays $7.1 million a year through 2016, the Panthers will be tempted next offseason to use their last chance to execute an amnesty buyout of Campbell’s contract. But that we are getting too far ahead of ourselves, Campbell’s contract situation will surely be a big topic of discussion next summer but looking at the season ahead, it is safe to say that we can expect more of the same from Brian Campbell.
The Panthers will be playing with a lot of youth, both on offense and defense and with that youth comes many questions. Brian Campbell is one of the few players that the Panthers know they can count on. Barring any injuries, we can be sure that he will produce somewhere around his career norms. I think the biggest factor regarding Campbell’s production will be how the players around him gel and develop. Will Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov step up more this season? Will the Panthers young offensive players be able to produce?
Campbell’s impact on a team can be best compared to that of a quarterback. Most of the offense runs through him but he is only as good as the players on the receiving end of his passes.
Another thing to look for this season is how Panthers’ head coach Kevin Dineen elects to manage Campbell’s minutes. Should a 34 year old be expected to average 26 plus minutes a game? I certainly do not think so but then the question is, who gets those extra minutes? The San Antonio Spurs and Florida Panthers are two franchises that should never be uttered in the same breath but Dineen could learn something from Gregg Popavich’s deft control over his aging stars minutes.