Kukla's Korner

Campbell: The Hands Of Fate

ith a big Game 5 looming around the corner, it seems like Hawks fans are ready to throw Brian Campbell and his mega contract to the wolves. Some pretty nasty stuff is being said; some are calling it the downfall of Dale Tallon while others simply just throw out expletives. You’d think that Campbell is the worst thing to wear red and black since The Master in Manos: The Hands of Fate.

(What? You’ve never seen Manos: The Hands of Fate? Take a hockey break and read up on the worst movie ever made.)

Let’s take a step back here. So Campbell’s not the second coming of Nick Lidstrom or Scott Niedermayer…is that actually surprising? Yes, Campbell’s one of the highest paid defensemen in the league, but Dale Tallon even admits that he overpaid for Campbell to make a splash in the suddenly hot Chicago marketplace.

Except for a few pretty rare exceptions, defensive-minded blueliners don’t hit the jackpot like their offensive-minded brethren. Campbell’s swift skating and keen offensive instincts are what earned him those big bucks, not his punishing hits (yes, he has the infamous R.J. Umberger hit but that’s not exactly a Campbell staple a la Scott Stevens) or penalty-kill abilities. Expecting him to be in the same league as generational defensemen like Lidstrom or Niedermayer is simply taking his salary out of context.

Of course, since I live in the Bay Area, I saw a bit of Campbell first hand during his brief tenure in San Jose. I remember right after the trade happened, some Buffalo fans emailed me and said that Campbell would be ridiculously frustrating—brilliant offensively in one shift and just a turnover machine the next.

And you know what? They were right. At the time (and this is pre-Dan Boyle, whom I’d take over Campbell any day of the week), those turnovers were acceptable since the Sharks desperately needed a puck-moving defenseman. When Campbell was on, boy was he on; when he was bad, his turnovers stank like dog poop in the microwave.

But I knew what I was getting. Just like I wasn’t expecting high art the first time I saw Manos: The Hands of Fate (though I read one review that said if you overdub a foreign language and revamp the music, you could pass it for a non-sensical European art film), I wasn’t expecting Campbell to be a defensive stalwart. He had his skills, he had his purpose, and I was ok with that.

So if you’re hating on Brian Campbell because you expected him to be a Norris-worthy defenseman, you’ve got to reset your expectations. That fat paycheck is for offensive skills that few people possess; in some cases, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. Overpaid? No one’s arguing that, and in a perfect world, only elite defensemen on both sides of the puck would get that money. But we’re not in a perfect world; we’re in one where flashy stats drive bidding wars to ridiculous values.

It’s all about context. If you acknowledge that Campbell offers a pretty big offensive upside with defensive liabilities, along with the realities of what drives a player’s salary, then there’s no real need to hate on him. Be frustrated? Sure, but don’t expect him to be something that he’s not.

And now, to prepare for Game 5, let’s all enjoy a little clip from the worst movie ever made. (By the way, you can watch the full MST3K version here or the actual entire movie here thanks to Google Video.)

Filed in: NHL, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: brian+campbell, chicago+blackhawks

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