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Campbell ready to hit the jackpot

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Of all this summer’s pending unrestricted free agent defensemen, Brian Campbell of the San Jose Sharks will attract the most suitors.

That is, provided he’s still available by the July 1 eligibility.

Since Doug Wilson acquired Campbell at the trade deadline from Buffalo, it has been widely assumed the Sharks GM will attempt to sign the smooth-skating blueliner before the July frenzy.

One report has childhood friend and teammate Joe Thornton, who’s letting Campbell live at his home the remainder of the season, attempting to sway the defenseman into staying by touting the warm California weather and laid-back local atmosphere.

It’s easy to understand the Sharks’ desire to retain Campbell. He’s the puck-moving defenseman Wilson sought for more than a year and is considered a key piece of their Stanley Cup aspirations.

Campbell has meshed well with his new team, with 12 points in 13 games and a plus-8 rating, helping the Sharks to an impressive 12-0-1 run.

Wilson also has plenty of salary cap space for next season (with less than $38 million committed to 10 players) to re-sign Campbell to an lucrative, long-term contract and still have money available to fill out the roster.

It seems likely Campbell will remain with the Sharks for a long time after this year, but that’s not a foregone conclusion.

Publicly, he has given no indication of his plans, recently saying he is focused only on helping the Sharks this season.

Behind the scenes, it’s possible contract talks have begun, but it’s also possible Campbell will test the UFA market to determine his true value.

It was speculated before the trade deadline that Campbell was looking for a five-year contract close to the value of Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov.

Campbell and Markov are comparable in age, style and statistics since 2005-06, although Campbell plays with more of a physical edge. The Canadiens last summer re-signed Markov to a five-year contract worth $5.75 million per season.

Now that he’s with the Sharks and a pending UFA, Campbell’s contract value certainly rise above the $25-million deal he reportedly sought from the Sabres. It has been speculated Wilson could get Campbell signed to a five-year, $30-million deal. Elsewhere, Campbell might command a $7 million per season offer.

The New York Rangers, Chicago, Atlanta, Carolina, Colorado, New Jersey and Los Angeles could be interested in Campbell and all have the available cap space to bid for his services.

That could drive up his asking price higher than Wilson is willing to pay.

Regardless of which team Campbell signs with, he’s guaranteed of landing the richest contract of his career.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, www.spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.

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