BUFFALO, N.Y. – Brian Campbell can’t step out of his house these days without someone asking the Sabres defenceman whether his time’s running out in Buffalo.
“Grocery store. Down the street. Parking lots,” Campbell said Sunday, noting the places he’s been cornered by fans. Trouble is, with the NHL trade deadline approaching Tuesday and Campbell eligible to become a free agent in July, the two-time All-Star can’t provide a definitive answer.
“I don’t want it to end. I’m not saying it’s ending or whatever. But I guess there are questions in the air,” Campbell said. “I do want to stay here. We’ll see what happens over the next couple of months.”
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has said his objective is re-signing Campbell, but hasn’t ruled out whether to trade him if a contract isn’t completed by Tuesday. Another option would be keeping Campbell to bolster the Sabres’ late-season playoff run and hope a deal can be reached before free agency opens July 1.
Following a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, Buffalo dropped to eighth place in a tightly contested Eastern Conference playoff race in which three points separated the teams sitting between sixth-and 10th-place.
Campbell and the Sabres have exchanged offers, but little progress has been reported.
“I’m operating under ‘No news is good news,”‘ Regier said Friday. “But the day’s still early, so there might be good news later.”
“I don’t know what’s going on now, really,” Campbell said Sunday.
It was reported last week that Campbell was expected to reject the Sabres’ last offer of a three-year deal that averaged out to just under US$6 million a season.
Campbell declined to comment on the report.
If unsigned, he would immediately become one of the most sought-after defencemen available in free agency, and expected to attract offers of five years or longer.
Campbell leads Sabres defencemen and is tied for seventh among NHL defencemen with 43 points (five goals and 38 assists) in 62 games. He’s 13th among NHL defencemen in logging 25:07 a game.
Buffalo’s sixth-round pick in the 1997 draft, Campbell proved to be a late-bloomer. He made his NHL debut, playing 12 games in 1999-2000, but struggled to maintain a regular role during his first five NHL seasons, during which he combined for 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists) in 167 games.
Campbell’s breakout year came in 2005-06, when he produced 44 points, including a career-high 12 goals, and followed that up with a career-best 48-point season (six goals, 42 assists) last year.
He’s a solid two-way player, who’s the Sabres’ best puck-handling defenceman, and also a physical checker.
The Sabres are currently about $6 million under the NHL’s $50.3 million salary cap this season.
Buffalo, however, is handcuffed after signing young star forward Thomas Vanek to a seven-year $50 million contract last summer. And the team needs to keep space available if it intends to re-sign star goaltender Ryan Miller, who’s contract comes up at the end of next season.
Failing to re-sign Campbell would be another knock against a team criticized for losing co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency in July. Their departures dealt a significant blow to a Sabres team that won the regular-season title last year and won an NHL-leading 105 games over the past two seasons.
Campbell, nicknamed “Soupy,” appears to have the team’s fans on his side. During Buffalo’s game against the Rangers, fans were spotted carrying signs that read, “Please Sign Campbell,” and “Save Our Soupy.”
“It’s good. Hopefully, I’ve got a few fans out there,” Campbell said. “I love it when you get kids coming up to you and saying, ‘I hope you stay here.”‘