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Campbell starts over as key member of Panthers

by Brian Compton
When Brian Campbell signed an eight-year, $56.8 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer of 2008, he understandably thought he would finish his career in the Windy City.

Just three years later, however, the skilled defenseman has a new home. With the Blackhawks up against the salary cap, Campbell was traded to the Florida Panthers on June 24 in exchange for Rostislav Olesz.

It's indeed another new beginning for Campbell, who just 15 months after helping the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup, heads south to help revive a franchise that hasn't qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2000. Campbell is joined by Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon, who was the GM in Chicago that signed Campbell to that monster deal.

"For myself, that would be the greatest thing to be able to develop and get this team back to the playoffs and then we'll see where it goes from there," Campbell told "I feel that anything can happen. Dale is allowing guys that are younger to develop and when they're ready, they'll come up. That's going to be fun to accomplish that feat. It's obviously not easy, but there's nothing better that I would want than to obviously win a Stanley Cup. It was fun in Chicago and once you get a taste of it, you want more."


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While he didn't necessarily put up the numbers with the Blackhawks that some might have been expecting, Campbell did play an instrumental role in helping turn things around in Chicago. In his first season with the club, he had 7 goals and 45 assists while playing all 82 games. He also had 2 goals and 8 assists in 17 playoff games.

One year later, he appeared in 19 postseason games and helped the Blackhawks end a 49-year Stanley Cup championship drought. Those cherished memories made it somewhat difficult for Campbell to waive his no-trade clause when Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman approached him in June.

"It wasn't a case that I really wanted to leave Chicago ... I enjoyed my time there and I liked everybody," Campbell said. "I liked my lifestyle living in Chicago, and I still am. It was tough, but knowing and talking to Dale Tallon, I knew I could trust him from his days being in Chicago. He's a man of his word. Looking at all the scenarios, I felt it was the best thing for me personally, and that's what I had to look at. I was happy to make the move to South Florida."

Campbell won't be the only fresh face when the Panthers opened training camp. Tallon was extremely busy this summer, with the goal of ending Florida's long playoff drought. Other additions include defenseman Ed Jovanovski, and forwards Sean Bergenheim, Matt Bradley, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall and Kris Versteeg. Campbell is confident the influx of talent could help the Panthers turn things around quickly.

"I do know some of the guys and I've played with some of them before, so it makes it a lot more comfortable walking into the dressing room," Campbell said. "All the guys that Dale brought in are character guys that have fun coming to the rink. They all want to compete every night. That's going to give us a chance to win.

"I feel like we're going to have success a lot quicker than people think. For us, as long as we think that in the locker room and know that it's playoffs or everything else is a failure and not acceptable, it's a good place to start. I think that's the mindset that we all need to have going into the season."

Not only do the Panthers have several new players, but the coaching staff has changed, too. Tallon fired Peter DeBoer at the end of the last season and has replaced him with rookie coach Kevin Dineen. The 37-year-old won 229 games over five seasons with AHL Portland.

"I've talked to him a little bit," said Campbell. "It's been good for me because I know he was involved in the Buffalo organization the last three years and I grew up in that system. The players that I've talked to that had him as a coach can't say enough good things about him. I'm excited to learn from him and see what he brings to the table. He's surrounded himself with guys like (assistant coach) Craig Ramsay, and I've heard nothing but great things about him. I imagine he'll be helping coach the defense. It's going to be exciting. I think Dale's put all the pieces in place for us to be successful."

Training camp is a crucial time for the Panthers, as all the new faces attempt to develop some chemistry before the club begins the 2011-12 regular season Oct. 8 against the New York Islanders. Given the amount of quality clubs in the Eastern Conference, a good start is essential to Florida's playoff chances.

"I think that's very important for us," Campbell said. "If you don't get off to a good start in this League, you're fighting the rest of the season, and that's never a fun thing to do. It's important for us -- and I can't confirm it -- but I know they'd like to get down to a fairly-quick team in training camp so we can try to mesh a little bit and get some chemistry with different lines and different pairings. I think with the guys that are there, it's going to be a fun locker room. Those guys tend to gel a lot quicker.

"I'm excited to get after it and get going and get the season going. There's a lot of hype and enthusiasm in the organization and even with the fans in South Florida. I think it's a good test for not only myself, but for everybody. It's going to be fun."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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