The salary cap era has effectively killed off high-end free agency in the NHL, as teams are often forced to lock high-end stars into long term deals before those stars hit free agency.
Elite defensemen, in particular, have become a rarity on the free agent market, with last year’s top offerings being Paul Martin and Andrej Sekera.
It’s not often that the one of league’s best blue liners is available on the open market, but headed into the offseason, it looks like such a player just might be ready to take his services to the team that can offer him the best contract.
That player would be Brian Campbell, an underrated puck mover who recently wrapped up his fifth straight season with the Florida Panthers. The 37-year-old has been one of the league’s best 5-on-5 defensemen over those five seasons, consistently having a relatively unmatched impact on shot attempt metrics.
Even looking at just the 2015-16 season, he finished 11th in the league in relative Fenwick For percentage. Campbell is simply one of the elite at getting the puck out of his own zone, and keeping his team on the offensive.
Though there have been conflicting reports, it seems that there’s a chance Campbell will test the free agent market, and possibly take his talents somewhere other than South Florida. If that happens, then there are a good number of NHL teams that should be sending dump trucks full of cash to the veteran.
The first team that should be trying to secure Campbell’s services for the 2016-17 season is his current employers, the Florida Panthers. The skilled blue liner ranked first among the team’s defensemen in:
- Ice time per game
- 5-on-5 ice time per game
- Relative Fenwick For percentage
- Relative Goals for per 60 on the power play
- Relative Goals against per 60 on the penalty kill
The Panthers are an up and coming young team that just won the Atlantic Division, and made the playoffs for just the second time in the past 15 years.
They’ll be looking to build on the success they had in the 2015-2016 season, and losing their best defender to free agency will make it difficult for them to do so.
The Philadelphia Flyers have a stacked prospect pool that is chock full of skilled defenseman, with Ivan Provorov, Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim, and Calder Trophy nominee Shayne Gostisbehere all showcasing high-end potential.
All four are under the age of 23, however, and only Gostisbehere has actual NHL experience. The Flyers have plenty of high end forwards, with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and others all in their prime. They also have an elite goaltending duo in Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, adding up to a “playoff contention” window opening.
Until the defensive prospects fully develop, the Flyers could use an elite puck moving defenseman on the roster to help bolster their shot attempt numbers.
The Flyers finished 17th in the league with a 49.7 percent Corsi For percentage. Adding Campbell for a couple of seasons gets them over 50 percent, and makes them a true playoff contender.
The Edmonton Oilers are one of the league’s most top-heavy teams, as they’ve loaded up with elite forwards at the Draft, but haven’t been able to pick up any solid defensemen.
If the Oilers could add Campbell via free agency, they would not only be plugging a massive roster hole, but they would also finally be giving their forwards a talented defenseman to play with.
Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov are all fast skaters; playing with a defenseman who can hit them in stride in the neutral zone (which Campbell is very good at doing) could do wonders for their production, and possibly boost the Oilers back into the postseason.
The Buffalo Sabres are still working through a rebuild, but Tim Murray has shown that he’s not afraid to make a splash and drastically improve his team; he’s traded for both Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly in the past two years.
The Sabres are another team chock full of young and talented forwards that don’t have equally talented defenseman to get them the puck. Adding Campbell gives the Sabres such a defenseman, and give burgeoning young star Rasmus Ristolainen a veteran presence to play with.
The more you look at, the more sense it makes for the Sabres to go after Campbell. If the 37-year-old tests the open market, the Sabres should bid heavily for his services.
Statistics courtesy of war-on-ice.com and corsica.hockey. All stats at 5 on 5 and score adjusted unless otherwise mentioned.