Unlike many of his teammates, Brian Campbell didn’t spend Christmas Eve running around various airports just to spend a few days up north.
Instead, the Panthers defenseman decided to spend some quiet time with his wife, Lauren, and enjoy daughter Harper's first Christmas — it will be a green one — in South Florida.
If anyone deserves a few days of relaxation, Campbell is the guy.
“You have to find times to back off,” coach Peter Horachek said.
Since coming to the Panthers in the summer of 2011, few players have logged more minutes than Campbell.
Campbell led all skaters in ice time during his first season with the Panthers in 2011-12, then was third in averaging more than 26 minutes in 48 games last year.
This season, Campbell is back to his ice-hogging ways with his 27-plus minutes per game ranking third in the NHL.
In Monday's blowout loss to the Lightning, Campbell was on the ice for 27:32.
Of Florida’s 38 games this year, Campbell has exceeded 26:00 in 23 — with 18 of those games coming since Horachek took over Nov. 9.
“You do what you have to do, I think,” said Campbell, who has played in all 168 regular-season games since coming to the Panthers. “You don’t control [the minutes] so you try to get a lot of rest, a lot of pills — the legal ones. I try to take care of myself and you learn over the years.”
With Ed Jovanovski out an extended period of time after having major surgery to help correct his degenerative-hip condition last year, Campbell has become much more of a sought-out leader inside the locker room.
Jovanovski said Campbell leads by his example as well as through his words.
“He’s definitely a guy who has been around and is well respected not only on our team but around the league,” Jovanovski said. “When he has something to say, guys listen. He leads by example on the ice. He cares so much about the team, it shows. It's infectious.”
General manager Dale Tallon sought to bring Campbell to the Panthers in 2011, knowing Chicago was willing to deal him at the draft. Tallon originally signed Campbell to an eight-year, $57 million-plus contract when Tallon was running the Blackhawks — and Campbell went on to help Chicago win the Stanley Cup in 2010.
At the time when Tallon swung the deal for Campbell in 2011 in exchange for Rostislav Olesz’s contract, the Panthers didn’t have many players signed for the following season. Campbell served as a so-called “pied piper” as available free agents began flocking to the Panthers that summer.
“He’s become a leader and obviously plays 28 minutes a game,” Tallon said. “It’s tough to find guys like Brian Campbell, guys who do the things he does. He gave us some credibility with free agents back then, helped us bring in some other guys. What he’s really brought is stability on the back end. He’s a top-notch pro.”
Of the 11 players who came to the Panthers during that stretch in 2011 when Tallon remade the Florida roster, Campbell’s acquisition remains the high point. Although there have been successes as well as failures, Campbell — who is signed through the next two seasons — has come as advertised.
“He’s been really good for us and me,” Horachek said. “He’s out there playing all the time, half the game. He’s certainly pushing the envelope. He wants the guys to win, he wants to do the right things. When I give a message, he reaffirms the message. He’s been really good.”
Thomas is back
The Panthers should have Tim Thomas back in net Saturday against visiting Detroit after he was activated off the injured list Tuesday.
Thomas has been out since injuring his groin during practice soon after beating the Red Wings 3-2 on Dec. 10. If Thomas starts, that would mean he will have started three consecutive games against the Red Wings (Dec. 8, 10 and 27).
Jacob Markstrom, who had been backing up Scott Clemmensen, was sent back to AHL San Antonio. Defenseman Alex Petrovic was also returned to the Rampage after making his season debut Monday against the Lightning.
Thomas has been on injured reserve three times this season.• Forward Jesse Winchester has a cast on his hand after getting injured blocking a shot Dec. 15 in Montreal. He is expected to be out another few games at the least.