Even though it has been over five years since Brian Campbell joined the Panthers, he never really left Chicago.
Now in the final year of the eight-year, $57 million contract Campbell originally signed with the Blackhawks, some wonder if he’ll eventually return to play in Chicago — perhaps as early as next season.
Campbell, 36, says he hasn’t thought much about his future beyond this season, although he wants to continue playing somewhere.
That very well might be with the Panthers.
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“Five years with the Panthers has gone quick, the past 15 years have gone quick,’’ said Campbell, who signed with the Blackhawks in 2008 when Florida general manager Dale Tallon was running the team.
“I have good memories here and hopefully we can cap that off and do something this year. For me, I hope to have a good year and see what happens. If I feel good, I want to keep playing. I’m feeling good on the ice right now. Those things take care of themselves.’’
Tallon sold Campbell on the Panthers and what he hoped was a bright future in 2011. The Blackhawks were in cap trouble and looking to unload Campbell’s contract and Tallon obviously had interest.
Campbell had to waive a no-trade clause, however, to make the deal — Florida gave up the oft-injured Rostislav Olesz — work.
Once he agreed to come play for Tallon again, Tallon sold other veterans on the team and revamped the roster.
Tallon’s new-look Panthers won the Southeast Division in 2012, but then finished at or near the bottom of the NHL standings in the following two years.
“We have committed ownership here and that works its way down,’’ said Campbell, who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 alongside current teammate Dave Bolland and assistant coach (then center) John Madden.
“It’s kind of disappointing that after the success we had here in Year 1 that people moved around and we didn’t keep it going. Now, hopefully, with this team and lineup we can do some good things.’’
Campbell still plays a big role on the Panthers, especially in the development of young defensemen.
In his first year with the Panthers, Campbell helped Jason Garrison to have a career year. Last year, Campbell was paired up with 18-year-old Aaron Ekblad and the two were a top defensive duo.
Ekblad ended up winning the Calder Trophy for the league’s top rookie.
“Every since I’ve been here, Soup has been great,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “He’s a veteran guy, a good leader.’’
Added Campbell: “It’s been a lot of fun playing with him. I’ve helped him out and he has helped me out. I think it’s been really good.’’
▪ Defenseman Steven Kampfer got in his first game Thursday as Gallant scratched Alex Petrovic.
Although Gallant said he has been happy with Petrovic’s overall play this season, “there were some things you didn’t like” from Petrovic in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss at Pittsburgh.
“Kampfer was good for us last year and hasn’t gotten a chance to play,’’ Gallant said. “We need to get him into the lineup.’’
Kampfer didn’t have a great start as Chicago’s Antem Anisimov rolled around him for the Blackhawks’ first goal of the night. In the second, Kampfer took a hooking penalty that led the Blackhawks’ second goal.
▪ Gallant tweaked his middle two lines during Tuesday’s game and kept that lineup Thursday as right wingers Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith swapped spots.
Trocheck is now on the second line with center Nick Bjugstad and Brandon Pirri; Smith is with Dave Bolland and Jussi Jokinen.
Trocheck scored for the Panthers 34 seconds after Anisimov made it 1-0.
Chicago led 2-1 after two periods.