By definition, the Boston Bruins annual Seventh Player Award goes to the player who went above and beyond the call of duty, and exceeded the expectations of its fans over the course of that NHL season. And for this 2010-11 season, center Gregory Campbell should be a slam-dunk.
When the B’s landed Nathan Horton from the Florida Panthers back on June 22, 2010, “the other guy” sent to The Hub was mentioned as an after thought. The “big” pieces were defenseman Dennis Wideman and Boston’s first-round draft pick in 2010 being shipped to Florida — while Campbell was lumped-in the backend of the deal in the same breath as the Bruins’ own third-round pick, which was also sent to the Panthers.
Nobody really knew what to expect from the new No. 11. Some of the B’s fans considered Campbell just another revolving-door fourth-line center to battle for a job during training camp. And before tryouts even began, you probably shook your head in disbelief that the already salary-cap-strapped Bruins were bringing in another $1.1 million player who could be just another “passenger”. Yet throughout the 75 NHL games played by the Black-and-Gold thus far, the 27-year-old has not only proven himself to be a serviceable pivot, but he’s undoubtedly been the Bruins’ best fourth-line center they’ve had in at least the past three season.
This particular blogger was a big Stephane Yelle fan, and an even bigger Steve Begin fan. But it didn’t take long for myself, and many others, to forget the past and embrace the present.
Having missed just two games all season, Campbell has been a tough, durable player. The London, Ontario, Canada, native currently has 91 penalty minutes and has the third-most fighting majors on the squad with 11. His willingness to give up size and strength when he drops the gloves against his opponents shows the size of his heart and passion that he possesses for his team and teammate. One perfect example is when No. 11 took on the tougher, and slightly larger, Cody McLeod of the Colorado Avalanche back on January 22. The Bruins, down 1-0 at the time of the fight, routed the Avs to an easy 6-2 victory after Campbell’s bout. In Denver and on Colorado ice, the momentum after Campbell’s big takedown of McLeod shifted right in Boston’s favor.
Giving up four inches, nearly 20 pounds, yet continuing to wear his heart on his sleeve, Campbell most recently threw-down with Habs defenseman Paul Mara in the Bruins 7-0 romp over the Montreal Canadiens. No. 11 took exception to Mara’s extracurricular activities on Mark Recchi earlier that period in front of the Montreal goal. Later on that period, Campbell stood-up for his future Hall of Fame forward and went toe-to-toe with Mara at center ice.
Almost always with Shawn Thornton to his right, Campbell makes the fourth-line much more than just a fourth-line. The offensive instinct and killer forecheck that Campbell brings to the team makes everyone around him better. Thornton has already exceeded his career-highs for points (18), goals (9), and shots on goal (143); and Campbell’s own stats have been a welcomed surprise to the club.
Offensively, while averaging 13 minutes 12 seconds of total ice time per game, Campbell’s 25 points (12 goals) trumps his two predecessors’ points by a large sum — Begin 14 points (5 goals), Yelle 18 points (7 goals).
“Soupy” is seven points shy of his career best 32 which came in the ’08-09 season in Florida, yet one goal short of his career-high 13, also in the ’08-09 campaign.
On the penalty-kill, Campbell shines. He has logged the second-most shorthanded time on ice of any Bruins forward this season with a total of 126 minutes 44 seconds (1:44 per game), and even chipped-in four of his 25 points on the PK.
Before the acquisition of Chris Kelly — and in Marc Savard’s absence — Campbell was the only left-handed shot the Bruins had up the middle. And depending on where on a particular ice a face-off was during a game, Campbell was called upon in certain instances. So far, Campbell has taken 750 draws and has won a respectable 51.5 percent on the season. Not too shabby for a guy who played mostly on the wing last season in the Sunbelt. And again, his numbers are very comparable to the two fourth-liners before him.
Begin: 53.5 percent (694 total)
Yelle: 52 percent (792 total)
The Seventh Player Award is always a tough decision every year, and on April 2, 2011 at the TD Garden before the Bruins’ contest against the Atlanta Thrashers, the 2011 winner will be announced. You could make a legitimate argument for 20-goal scorer Brad Marchand and rookie defenseman Adam McQuaid, or even 30 goal/100 PIM forward Milan Lucic and soon-to-be two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas.
But for a player who brings it in one form or another, night-in and night-out, Gregory Campbell is not only a no-brainer for the Award, but realistically, the only choice.