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Sharks nab Campbell for Bernier, first-rounder

by Dan Rosen

Brian Campbell was dealt to San Jose in exchange for forward Steve Bernier and a first-round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Brian Campbell | Steve Bernier
Brian Campbell slept well Monday night. He arrived for practice on time and was even stretching with the Buffalo Sabres. Everything appeared normal … until Sabres coach Lindy Ruff showed up and called Campbell aside and rocked his world.

"As I walked to the room he had his arm around me. I said; 'It's happened, hasn't it?' " Campbell said. "I asked the question probably three or four times and then he finally said; 'Yeah.' "

Before the clock struck 10 a.m. in Buffalo on Tuesday, Campbell, who is one of the best defensemen in the NHL, a two-time All-Star, finally learned his fate, which has been dangling for almost two months.

Campbell was informed by Ruff and Buffalo GM Darcy Regier that he had been traded to San Jose in exchange for 22-year-old power forward Steve Bernier and the Sharks' first-round pick in the upcoming Entry Draft. Buffalo also sent a seventh-round pick in this June's draft to San Jose with Campbell, one of the top puck-moving defensemen in the game who is a pending unrestricted free agent following this season.

While Campbell wasn't shocked that he was dealt -- "I had a feeling it was coming." -- he was quite emotional.

Campbell was drafted by the Sabres in 1997. He has spent his entire career in Buffalo and became an All-Star for the first time last season. He was again this season.

"For me going in there (with Ruff and Regier), boom, that's when it really hit home," Campbell said. "I looked at Lindy as a coach, but also as a friend. He and Darcy told me. I would have liked to say more, probably thanked them more, but the words weren't going to come out too easy for me. They were obviously upset. I have worked hard for them and they have put a lot of sacrifice in to me. It wasn't fun for any one of us.

"I think Darcy just said; 'I hate this, but you know it's a business and I hate that part of it.' The three of us kind of sat there and didn't say a whole lot because we didn't want it to end, but it was going to end."

Campbell was near tears when he was interviewed around noon by the local Buffalo media. By 2:30 p.m. ET, however, when he was on a conference call arranged by the Sharks' public relations department, he said he was ready to move on.

"I'm getting over it. I'm starting to get all packed up here and ready to go," Campbell said. "Obviously the initial shock … I had a lot of good years in Buffalo. I had a feeling it was coming. I didn't know it was coming. Once it happens it hits home pretty fast. I'm looking forward to (playing with San Jose) now."

Campbell brings his elite skills, including his super speed and ability as a power-play quarterback, to the Sharks, a team that desperately needed a "pick-me-up" in their bid to become a major contender in the Western Conference.

San Jose is fifth in the West with 74 points, leading Minnesota by one and Vancouver and Nashville by two. It is third in the Pacific Division, trailing first-place Dallas by nine points and second-place Anaheim by five.

Campbell had five goals and 38 assists this season for the Sabres. His 43 points led all Sabres defensemen and is seventh among NHL defensemen.

"We have been looking for this component for our hockey team for quite a while," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. "I'm very familiar with Brian Campbell's game. I think he's one of the top puck-moving defenseman in the game. We think he'll fit in tremendous for our hockey team. He'll certainly improve our power play and our puck possession game.

"He's a world class skater. He can move the puck. He can play defense. He's a multidimensional player, and he's had success. He's the type of guy that will fit into the dressing room here."

Regier was hoping to sign Campbell before Tuesday's 3 p.m. deadline, but when that fell through he clearly felt the need to move him instead of taking a risk and losing him to free agency come July 1.

Regier watched Chris Drury and Daniel Briere leave via free agency this past July after the two centers helped the Sabres reach the Eastern Conference Final last season. He couldn't let Campbell leave for nothing, too, and the two sides couldn't agree on a long-term contract by this afternoon.

"It's unfortunate," Regier said. "It's unfortunate for the fans. Lindy (Ruff) and I met with him and we thanked him. I'm not going to get into the specifics of what happened in that room, but there is a lot of respect."

"Progress wasn't made in areas that it could have been," Campbell said of his contract talks with Buffalo. "I wanted to be here for the long term and I made that clear in a lot of ways. It didn't happen. The money was good, but I couldn't sign a three-year deal like that."

As a result, Campbell hinted Tuesday that he expects to test the free-agent waters following the season, if for nothing else so he could put all the business aside and focus on helping the Sharks right now.

"I always listen to anything that comes forward, but I wouldn't mind just playing hockey for a little bit," he said. "It's been a circus here in Buffalo for a while. It has dragged on me a little bit as of late and it's something I really feel like I'd get away from for now and worry about playing hockey. I'm going to have enough on my plate coming up here. We'll see how San Jose fits in to what I want to do and make those adjustments as you go along."

Campbell may be unfamiliar with the Western Conference, but he is quite familiar with a few of his new teammates, namely former Sabres Mike Grier and Curtis Brown, and longtime friend Joe Thornton.

"I played with Mike and Curtis. Both guys I still keep in touch with. I'm definitely looking forward to getting back with them. They're two really good guys," Campbell said. "I know Joe Thornton really well. I played summer hockey with him since I was 7 or 8 years old. Our hometowns aren't too far from each other, so I spent a lot of time with him and his family."

Campbell now could be spending a lot of time on the ice, especially on the power play, with Thornton. In fact, this trade could wind up being a bonanza for the Sharks power play, which is ranked 20th and clicking just 16.8 percent of the time.

Campbell could quarterback a unit that also includes Thornton, Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau. Campbell had 21 power-play points, including three goals and 18 assists, for the Sabres this season. Buffalo's power play is ranked eighth.

"He's as good of a momentum skater as there is in the League," Sabres assistant coach James Patrick told earlier this season. "As a guy who can be skating backward with the puck, pivot and go forward he carries that momentum incredibly. To wind up and go behind the net, he just comes out flying."

Campbell's ability as a puck-rushing defenseman should also soften the typically aggressive forecheck teams have played against the Sharks.

In return, the Sabres get Bernier, who the Sharks selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft. Bernier, a pending restricted free agent after the season, will give the Sabres offense a boost, which could help in their playoff push in the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres are in a virtual tie with Philadelphia Flyers for the final playoff spot. They each have 69 points, but the Flyers have one more win. Each team has 21 games remaining.

Bernier, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound right wing, has 13 goals and 10 assists this season after scoring 15 goals in 62 games last season and 14 in 39 games the year before.

Ironically, Bernier can also aide the Sabres' power play. He had four power play goals for the Sharks this season. Bernier, though, has not scored since Jan. 24 and has only two assists in the past 12 games.

"It's tough to understand the business sometimes," Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller said, "but hopefully this works out well."

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