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Hawks sign Brian Campbell to eight-year deal

by Brian Compton


Enticed by a roster full of young talented players, All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell decided to sign an eight-year deal worth $56.8 million with the Chicago Blackhawks on the first day of free agency.
The official revival of the Chicago Blackhawks got under way in 2007-08 with the arrivals of rookie sensations Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The dynamic duo combined for 126 points as Chicago fell just three points shy of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
   
Brian Campbell recognized the amount of young talent on the Blackhawks’ roster, so he decided to become a member. The All-Star defenseman turned out to be nothing more than a rental for the San Jose Sharks, as he signed an eight-year deal worth $56.8 million with Chicago on the first day of free agency.
   
"We had to make a statement," Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon said. "We have created a buzz here in this market. We're starting to sell more and more tickets, more and more sponsorships. We decided that we would try and make an impact today to continue that momentum. We felt we made a statement today."
   
Indeed they did, as the Blackhawks snatched arguably the top defenseman on this year's free-agent market. Campbell, who started the 2007-08 season with the Buffalo Sabres before being dealt to San Jose at the trade deadline, finished with eight goals and 54 assists. He also had a goal and six assists in 13 playoff games for the Sharks.
   
The abundance of young talent and the Hawks' push to win were among the things that attracted Campbell.

"They’re doing things that are making it known in Chicago and around the League that they want to win," he told ChicagoBlackhawks.com. "That was a huge factor. The organization started to make the city take note and provide a lot of entertainment and something the fans could hold onto. I think that’s pretty exciting. I’ve been involved with that, especially in Buffalo the last couple of years. When you get a city behind you, things just go up and up.

"We've got young players. The organization will have to stay on top of them and keep them working hard. I think it's the job of veteran players to help along the way. But there's no reason we can't win right now. We don't need to wait a year or two, we can go right now. We can do good things this season."

While it will be up to coach Denis Savard as to whom will skate alongside Campbell on the blue line, Tallon believes a tandem of Campbell and Duncan Keith — another All-Star — would be one of the best in the NHL.
   
"He led the League in ice time … 29 minutes," Tallon gushed about Campbell. “He and Dunc can log a lot of minutes without getting fatigued because of their great skating ability. The other thing is Brian's ability to play on the power play and be creative there."
   
Tallon is confident that Campbell's arrival will also relieve some pressure off the likes of Keith — who turns 25 on July 16 — and Brent Seabrook, who had 32 points and 90 penalty minutes in his third season. Seabrook turned 23 on April 20.
   
"Duncan Keith and Seabrook really stepped up and played extremely well this year," Tallon said. "They're getting better, (but) this takes the heat off of them. It gives us more foot speed and more creativity and more ability to move the puck out of our own end."

Campbell wasn't Chicago's lone signing on the first day of free agency. Joining him is goaltender Cristobal Huet, who agreed to a four-year contract. Huet's play down the stretch helped the Washington Capitals win the Southeast Division. He won 11 times in 13 games for the Caps while posting a 1.63 GAA and a .936 save percentage after coming to Washington from Montreal at the trade deadline.

Huet joins veteran netminder Nikolai Khabibulin in Chicago. Khabibulin is entering the final season of his contract, which will pay him $6.75 million. While some may feel there could be friction between the pair of highly-paid goalies, Tallon said he spoke with Huet before the deal was made and is confident everything will be just fine.

"Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet will play together," Tallon said. "They will be a great tandem for us. Without strong goaltending, you've got no chance. We had to solidify that position. We need to start winning now and send a message to our young players that we're committed.

"We didn't have to talk (Huet) into anything at all. I think he liked the situation here in Chicago and he liked the direction of the team. He's very high on Khabibulin and looks forward to working with him."

One thing, however is clear — with Campbell and Huet in the mix, the Blackhawks are a better team on July 1 than they were on June 30.

"It's a great day for the organization," Tallon said. "I'm excited about the future of the Chicago Blackhawks. It was a long and tiring day, but very fruitful. We want to win, and we want to win consistently.

"We looked at what we need to do to be successful, and it starts in the back end. It gives our young players the opportunity to make a few more mistakes and be more creative up top."
   
Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.

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