Fact: the Blue Jackets have a reputation around the NHL as a fast, physical and aggressive team that opponents loathe to play.
Another fact: that’s right in Gregory Campbell’s wheelhouse.
Campbell, who signed a two-year deal in Columbus two weeks ago, figures to assume a bottom-six role as he did with the Boston Bruins for five years – highlighted by a seven-game Stanley Cup Final victory against Vancouver in 2012. He’s been around the league in a 780-game career (regular season and playoffs), seen it all and been through the rigors of deep playoff runs, which is part of what attracted the Blue Jackets.
When the NHL’s free agency courting period open, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen and president of hockey operations John Davidson made early calls to Campbell’s agent, and they remained in pursuit late into the afternoon on July 1. For Campbell, signing in Columbus made the most sense because of his style, the team’s style, and what he felt he could add to a young team that’s riding into a new season with high expectations once again.
And make no mistake: he’s not here to replace departed players or try to be a player different than he’s been the last 11 years. If Gregory Campbell does what Gregory Campbell can do, the Blue Jackets feel they're a better team for it.
“You have to go in and be yourself,” Campbell said. “When I went to Boston (in 2010), not many people knew who I was or what kind of style I played. I kind of embraced the team philosophy and the way they played, which is very similar to the way this team plays: a hard game and a strong, fast game. I think I always embraced that in years past that I was comfortable as a role player; penalty killing, defensively, or whether it is contributing offensively when you’re not expected to contribute as much as everyone else.
“I definitely think this team is built with a lot of depth, so it will allow me to play with some good players. I’m not really looking at replacing anybody, just coming in here and helping this team.”
In addition to his experience, the Blue Jackets targeted Campbell because of his elite penalty-killing and defensive ability, as well as a relentless work ethic that’s earned him respect around the league.
Campbell knows first-hand what it takes to win a Stanley Cup, and he’s been on both sides: the elation of winning a dramatic series in 2011, and also, the agony of losing a heart-breaker to new teammate Brandon Saad and the Chicago Blackhawks two years later.
“It takes so many things to win a Stanley Cup; it takes luck, as far as being healthy and sometimes series are decided in a moment or overtime in Game 7,” Campbell said. “From what I learned from playoff experience, you have to have that commitment and belief in yourself. It’s a long road.
“It really takes everybody to win the Stanley Cup. You’re going to have to rely on everyone at some point in time. It’s about fitting in here, bringing what we can bring and what our strengths are. We’re just trying to be part of this team.”
Within hours of signing his contract with the Blue Jackets, Campbell heard from many of his new teammates, including captain Nick Foligno. While in Boston, Campbell got to know several current Jackets from their in-conference battles, including Scott Hartnell (Philadelphia) and Brandon Dubinsky (New York).
It helped reaffirm that he’d made a good decision, one that's enabled him to join a team with championship aspirations of its own.
“You’re automatically given 20 new friends when you move to a new city,” Campbell said. “People talk about us coming here and what we’ve done – winning, more or less – but I have lot of respect for guys in (the Blue Jackets) room. They’re hard to play against, whether they’ve been on this team or other teams.
“The captain, Nick Foligno, is a tremendous hockey player – not a flashy guy, but he’s really respected around the league. That’s kind of how this team is: not real flashy but it works hard, and I’m honestly really excited to be part of it.”
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