Is Brian Campbell Really A Problem? And Is There A Salary Cap Answer For The Blackhawks?

When the Blackhawks season ended on Tuesday night, everyone looked for a scapegoat. It was easy to throw poor Chris Campoli under the bus for his awful turnover in overtime. And Marian Hossa didn’t put up a lot of points, so he was an easy target as well.

But the most readily available target for fans’ death stare has been Brian Campbell.

Is that heat justified? Is Campbell a bad player, or is the issue with his salary? And is there anything the Blackhawks can do about it?

First of all, let me be very clear: Campbell is a good defenseman. He’s a top-four d-man anywhere in the league; it isn’t his fault Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook happen to be in the same city he is for the next few years.

If there’s any issue with Campbell, is should have nothing to do with his play on the ice.

However, his contract has an atomic bomb-feel to it when you realize that, starting in October 2011, he will have five more years with a $7,142,875 cap number with the Chicago Blackhawks.

I’m not going to get on the soapbox about the contract completely, but will remind the naive, perspective-less fans out there that the Blackhawks were a black hole to agents and free agents. Nobody wanted to play for the bottom-dwelling Blackhawks four years ago, so overpaying was Dale Tallon’s only chance to land a premier player.

Also remember the market for defensemen when Campbell signed. Boston signed Zdeno Chara to a deal with a $7.5M cap number two years prior, and Dion Phaneuf signed a deal the same summer as Campbell with a $6.5M cap number. The Blackhawks felt that they needed an elite puck-moving defenseman, and paid to get him.

Let’s also not forget that Nick Leddy, Shawn Lalonde and Brian Connelly weren’t factors in the organization when Campbell signed. There weren’t in-house options that could be developed to play the role Campbell was signed to perform.

[steps off soap box]

However, in the last 18 months the Blackhawks acquired Leddy and have been pleasantly shocked by his development. He has shown all the signs of having the potential to become an elite player in the mold of the two players he listed as his role models at the draft: Campbell and Keith.

Is Leddy ready to be that top-four defenseman now? Probably not. Is he close? Perhaps. Is his game progressing at an astronomical rate just two years out of high school? Absolutely.

The Blackhawks have also been forced to deal with a blue line that’s not only performing well, but also becoming much more expensive. Keith signed a deal for the rest of his career, Seabrook got paid, and Niklas Hjalmarsson probably got more than he was worth when San Jose threw a stunning offer sheet at him last summer.

Growing salaries for the defensemen around Campbell makes his cap number feel like a tightening noose with every deal that’s signed.

Is Campbell’s deal so big that the Blackhawks will never win another Cup? No. That’s a laughable idea. Indeed, Campbell could play out the rest of his contract and the Hawks could – and will – be a contender for the next five years.

But saving money and reallocating funds to some size up front might make sense, especially considering the progress of Leddy.

So how do the Blackhawks make Campbell disappear?

First of all, let’s just go ahead and eliminate a trade. Not only does Campbell have a no-trade clause that allows him the ability to limit the Blackhawks to a list of eight teams, but there just aren’t that many teams willing or able to take on a cap number as big as Campbell’s.

There’s the buyout option, which I offered up as an alternative a couple years ago. But that would stick the Blackhawks with Campbell on the books for 10 more years at roughly $2.381M for a cap number. The immediate savings during his contract years would be substantial – roughly $4.762M per season for the next five years would become available.

But adding another five years of cap commitment for a guy to be playing somewhere else just doesn’t make sense.

There’s one other option that might not be the most conventional, but might make the most sense.

Waivers.

If the Blackhawks put Campbell on waivers, they could make Campbell available to other teams at a 50 percent discount on the salary and zero outgoing players or picks.

The question is simple: is Brian Campbell worth $3,571,437 per for the next five years?

Let’s simply look at a few defensemen making in that neighborhood next year. Is Campbell worth as much as Brad Stuart, Kevin Bieksa, Mike Commodore or Filip Kuba? Considering his skill set, I would confidently say yes.

The risk to the Blackhawks is that another Western Conference competitor would snatch up Campbell and he would haunt Chicago with good play on a rival for the next five years.

The benefits to the Hawks are obvious: free-up over $3.5M in cap space and, perhaps of equal importance, a spot on the blue line for one of the talented youngsters to follow Leddy to the United Center and impact the Blackhawks roster moving forward.

Is this a bold, unconventional route to saving money and opening opportunity? Sure. Is it likely to happen? Probably not. But is a very real option for the Blackhawks moving forward.

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11 Responses to Is Brian Campbell Really A Problem? And Is There A Salary Cap Answer For The Blackhawks?

  1. NavyLifer3 says:

    I’m glad someone is willing to talk about this.

    If I understand your explanation correctly – if the Hawks BuyOut the contract then Campbell gets the full contract; the Hawks are saddled with a $2.381M Cap hit for the original length of the contract AND Campbell can still sign anywhere he want’s for whatever the market will pay.

    However, if they place him on waivers, the Hawks are on the hook for half the salary; the Cap hit is the Hawk’s half of the salary (I guess for the length of the original contract) and the Hawks can start looking forward, provided there’s an acceptable market or team Campbell will accept.

    What about sending him to Rockford like they were considering doing with Huet…just to get him off the Cap hit? Is his contract written to prevent that?

    Sure – I’m guessing he’d be hating life, and he’d probably be the highest paid minor leaguer, but at least at that point the Hawks could discount almost his entire contract. I say almost all his contract, because they would have to plan accordingly – in case of injury – but unless he becomes a cancer, he’d one hell of a playyoff call up and tutor for young talent.

    Plus – given a choice between Rockford and opening yourself to alternatives Campbell may find himself more willing to other options; cities and/or even leagues!

    Either way his salary is a dead weight that has to be dealt with.

  2. the polish price says:

    Trade him…I’m a die hard Hawks fan, and have never liked Campbell…over rated and over paid.

  3. Nathan says:

    A well written piece Tab, very succinct. I see very much the same picture, but for one other option. Keep Brian Campbell. Like you said, he is a top 4 D-man anywhere in the league, and until some of our youth starts proving otherwise he is overwhelmingly our 3 hole D-man. As fans we all need to accept that developing young defensive talent takes time, likely more time than any other postion in the game. Therefore, we could expect a youngster to come into Chicago and play some minutes – but to play the quality of minutes that Soupy plays? Maybe; it would be a longshot – but is it worth the gamble? I say no, and defend the Brian Campbell ‘cap bomb’ with what may well be going through the minds of the brass on Madison; the league and players are going to negotiate a new CBA after/during the 2011/12 season. Why is this significant? A new CBA could see the surfacing of some cap relief that many teams, not just the Hawks, are screaming for.

    Really, I don’t think the league, or players want to see guys like Wade Redden, or Souray bounced due soley to salary restrictions. At the same time, clearly the cap is working – parity is at an all-time high and league revenue is climbing every year. That being said, the league and players have options the relieve some cap problems without losing the cap. For example, franchise players – each team can nominate a franchise player whose salary doesn’t contribute to the cap. Perhaps, GM’s could be given the opportunity to trade salary again (without a cap hit). Brian Cambell is certainly tradeworthy in such a world. Allow for any amount of chaos with regard to cap rule changes and in 2012/13 we could be talking about a Blackhawks franchise that can easily afford to keep Cambell without having to sacrifice depth at forward.

  4. Evan Scussel says:

    This makes sense only from a team construction perspective. Yes, the Hawks will have $4.762 million more to play with on the salary cap for each of the next 5 years. That’s great. But don’t forget that the Hawks are still on the hook for half that total each of those 5 years. That’s $3.6 million of real dollars Rocky Wirtz has to pay on top of the fact the Hawks will use that $4.762 million in savings to lure other players to Chicago and get right back to the cap ceiling. When you consider that Wirtz is also paying Huet $5.6 million next year to stay as far away from America as possible, that’s $9 million in dead money next year and $3.5 million for every year thereafter. I just don’t see Rocky eating that sort of coin. Will Campbell get waived/traded before this contract is up? Yes. I just don’t see it happening before the 13-14 season.

  5. Joe says:

    I’m not a big fan of Campbell, however he did play much better this year & didn’t make the silly mistakes he has in the past. This could be due to the fact that he feels Leddy nipping at his heels & he doesn’t want to loose ice time to the “kid”. I feel Leddy is our future Duncan Keith.

    Now on to the 700 lb. gorilla in the room – Patrick Kane – To put it politely he is a wuss…. It became glaringly apparent IMO that he wanted NO PART of any physical play…. There is no question that he is one of the most talented offensive players in the league, however he was easily nullified by Vancouver’s physical play against him. He needs to hit the gym & toughen up…. and “man up” as they say. Someone posted earlier about Jordan Staal……. If we can’t toughen up Kane it might be worth investigating a trade…….

    Thanks for all the great work Tab!

  6. Tab Bamford says:

    You cannot – and do not – trade Patrick Kane at 22 yrs old and w/ 4 yrs left on his contract. NO chance. Not everyone’s a wrecking ball, and the fact remains that Kane’s one of the most clutch players in the NHL. Was he great vs Vancouver? Not overwhelming but who, other than Corey Crawford, was? He’ll never be a 200-hit guy, but he’s an outstanding scorer. No way you trade him.

  7. JM says:

    Blackhawks will never trade Kaner – the fan’s love him too much/he sells too many sweaters for that. Plus, he scored the cup-winning goal.

  8. puttingonthefoil says:

    Campbell seems a little soft at times but he did lead the team with a +28 and was 12th in total points. I’m thinking they give him one more year to the let the kids develope and then cut him loose. Did we give Nik a little too much coin, probably. However, the kid is 23, always steps up in big games, and will throw his body into harms way consistently. Campbell was consistenly the biggest ole player on the team- we don’t do ole in Chicago.

  9. hawklover says:

    IMO, you are wrong about Campbell & Hjalmarrson. Campbell is not a great D-man, he’s a defensive liability. Hjalmarsson? He’s an excellent defensive D-man. Just my opinion.

  10. Otis says:

    Not only is Campbell afraid of making contact with anything other than his ARSE hitting the bench, he has now become afraid of carrying the puck! That’s his game; and if he’s scared to do that, he absolutely worthless!

  11. Tre says:

    This has to be the most generous contract a player ever received. PLUS, Campbell, got his ring. Campbell scored big with this deal, but I don’t think getting rid of him is a better option than keeping him.

    He was, is and will be a strong contributor to a good team. Plus, he seems like a humble, good guy. As a Hawks fan, I wish the Hawks could renegotiate, but good for Soupy. He can be proud of his contributions,

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