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Campbell eager to get Chicago career started

by Dan Rosen

After playing for both the Sabres and Sharks last season, Brian Campbell has found stability in the Blackhawks, signing an eight-year contract worth more than $7 million per season.
Brian Campbell 2007-08 season highlights
Things are going so well in Chicago these days that Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon is even cracking jokes in press conferences now.

As Brian Campbell pulled his brand new Chicago Blackhawks sweater with No. 51 stitched on the back over his finely pressed shirt and tie Tuesday afternoon, Tallon grabbed the slick defenseman's sport coat and noticed a bulge in the inner pocket.

"A little heavier in the wallet," Tallon quipped, drawing laughter from media members, who know all about Campbell's eight-year contract that will reportedly pay him more than $7 million per season.

"It's my cell phone," Campbell responded, smiling.

It seems as though everyone in Chicago is smiling these days, even Cubs fans.

Both Chicago baseball teams reside in first place in their respective divisions. The Bulls selected Derrick Rose with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft last month and are already seeing him bloom in the Orlando Pro Summer League. The Bears are close to opening training camp, and the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves just won the Calder Cup.

These days sports fans around the city are also wrapped up in the Blackhawks, who are once again making a splash in one of the oldest and greatest hockey cities in North America.

Tallon introduced Campbell -- the newest and most expensive piece of what he believes can turn into a Stanley Cup championship puzzle -- to the media during a press conference Tuesday at the United Center. There was no shortage of buzz or history in the building.

Sitting at the podium with Tallon and Campbell was Blackhawks coach Denis Savard, one of the greatest Hawks of all-time and a Hockey Hall of Famer. In the crowd were fellow Hawk greats and Hall of Famers, Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito.

Campbell, who sat between Tallon and Savard, could barely contain his excitement about what it feels like to be a part of this new chapter in Hawks history, one that also includes 19-year-old Patrick Kane and 20-year-old Jonathon Toews, who last season became ambassadors to an electrifying Chicago hockey scene.

"The main thing for me in free agency was going to a place that loves hockey, sells out their building and wants to win," Campbell said. "I think the organization has proven that and the fans in Chicago have embraced it. It's not just the Chicago Blackhawks anymore. It's their team. Hopefully they can take us in as their own players, like they know us personally."

Campbell looked relaxed and engaged, and for good reason. After spending virtually the entire 2007-08 season wondering about his future, he finally has the stability he craved from an organization he feels is doing everything it can to win.

Campbell at first came under scrutiny in Buffalo for halting negotiations for a long-term contract with the Sabres, who drafted him in the sixth round in 1997. He was traded to San Jose, but despite a phenomenal 16-2-2 close to the regular season, Campbell couldn't help the Sharks get past the second round of the playoffs.

Instead of signing a long-term deal right away to stay in San Jose, Campbell chose to test his value on the open market by making himself an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He was unemployed for only a couple of hours before signing with the Blackhawks.

It has been very challenging. These are decisions that you make, but (Blackhawks President) John McDonough and I were talking earlier and I could just tell I made the right decision in coming to Chicago. - Brian Campbell
"It's been a long process," Campbell said. "It has been very challenging. These are decisions that you make, but (Blackhawks President) John McDonough and I were talking earlier and I could just tell I made the right decision in coming to Chicago.

"You're always looking ahead, even before July 1, and Chicago always came back into the picture as a place I could see myself. It just kept coming back to that."

Campbell said he's not the only one thinking along those lines.

When asked if there is a growing buzz about Chicago among players around the League, most notably those who entered unrestricted free agency this season or are planning to next season, Campbell said, without question, there is.

"Around the League, they are beginning to notice it's the greatest city in North America and people want to play in great cities on a big stage," Campbell said. "That's where Chicago is going to be. Last year, they made tremendous progress in that. Next year, it will be even better. I have talked to a lot of guys that I played with and they say, 'Get me there, quick.' That's good for the organization."

To that, Tallon, while looking in the direction of Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, said: "Perfect. Rocky, did you hear that?"

Campbell said he saw firsthand how passionate Blackhawks' fans can be when he visited the United Center on March 7 with the Sharks. That night the Hawks were honoring legends Hull and Stan Mikita, and Campbell said the buzz was impressive.

"Warm-up was awesome," Campbell said. "People were hanging on the glass and getting ready for the game. That's what you want. That's what you look for in a place to play; the excitement and people being there early for games.

"This town is going to embrace us and I can't wait for that. I can't wait to show my personality not only to my teammates, but to the fans and the media."

Even though nothing is set yet, it appears Savard will put Campbell and fellow All-Star Duncan Keith together to form the Blackhawks' top D-pairing. Brent Seabrook, Cam Barker, Brent Sopel, James Wisniewski and Matt Walker are the other blue-liners.

"I'll play with anybody," Campbell said. "Just give me lots of ice time. That's what I like."

That shouldn't be a problem, especially if he does indeed play with Keith, who averaged 25:33 of ice time per game while finishing with a career-high 32 points and a plus-30 rating. Campbell, who split time in Buffalo and San Jose, came in at 25:06 per game and had a career-high 63 points with a plus-8 rating.

Both Keith and Campbell are well-known for their speed game.

"I met Duncan at the All-Star Game and he's a very nice guy and a great player," Campbell said. "Usually I'm the fastest-skating defenseman on the team, so I'm a little worried about him. If (playing with Keith) is what makes us good, I'm perfect with that."

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