But the veteran center knows he’s got a pretty good thing here in Boston, and he was more than happy to sign on for another three years with the Bruins.
“You know, there are a lot of considerations when you’re in this situation,” Campbell said on a conference call announcing the deal Wednesday. “It’s the first time that I was kind of scheduled for unrestricted free agency, and so there’s a lot of things that go through your mind, but I’m fortunate to play with really good players.”
Over the past two years since he arrived in Boston in a trade from Florida, those players have primarily been Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille on the Bruins’ fourth line. With Thornton signing a two-year extension during the season and Paille re-upping for three years earlier this month, Campbell will likely remain with that combination for the foreseeable future.
Had he gone elsewhere, Campbell may have had a shot to center the third line or play a more prominent role on a team that wasn’t as deep. And while he did receive a healthy raise from an annual salary of $1.1 million on his last deal to an average of $1.6 over the course of this contract, he probably could have gotten even more if he had tested the market.
“He’s an individual that due to the lack of centermen out there on the free market, he took less than what he would have got on the market,” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “Let’s make no bones about that. All along Gregory has told me he wants to be back with the Bruins. Although it took a little bit of time we’ve made that work.”
Campbell, 28, isn’t your average fourth-liner. He supplies the kind of grit expected of the role with 107 hits (second only to Milan Lucic among Boston forwards) and 10 fighting majors (second on the team to just Thornton’s NHL-leading 20), but he also chipped in offensively with 8-8-16 totals, was solid defensively (53 blocked shots, 50.7 percent on faceoffs) and was a regular on Boston’s penalty kill.
In his first season, he was even more impressive, posting career highs with 13 goals and 11 fights — one of just eight players in the league that season to reach double figures in both categories.
“Gregory epitomizes the Bruins style of play,” Chiarelli said. “He did great service for us in the fourth line, but he’s also shown that he can play up [on a higher line]. He’s a strong player, a strong faceoff, very responsible player and I can’t stress enough the kind of glue nature to his game.”
Campbell has moved up to higher lines on occasion, but knows that isn’t likely to become a permanent assignment with Boston’s depth up front. That’s fine with Campbell, who recognizes that Boston’s fourth line is a little different than most. It has been more productive than most so-called “energy lines,” and it has been given more responsibility by coach Claude Julien, who prefers to roll all four lines regularly and trusts the veterans on his fourth unit to be capable of playing an expanded role.
“Our fourth line, as it’s called in Boston, is not a fourth line on most other teams, so that has nothing to do with it,” Campbell said. “I’m very fortunate to play with good players and to me, being a role player, as I am probably considered in the league, it’s important to be a role player on a good team because I’ve experienced before being a role player with a team that’s not so successful and you kind of get lost in the mix and your role isn’t appreciated and winning isn’t very realistic.”
Winning has become not just realistic, but expected in Boston. That helped make Campbell determined to stay, and the fact that his linemates, Thornton and Paille, would be sticking around made the decision even easier.
“It’s not too often that you have an opportunity to be with the same linemates for so long, with so much turnover in this league now and with injuries and what not, it’s very rare,” Campbell said. “So to be able to develop chemistry, I’ve been able to play with Thorty now for two years on a consistent basis and pretty much Danny too, and it makes it a lot easier. It’s a tough league to play in and when you have support and when you know one another’s tendencies, every little bit helps.”
The support from above helps as well, whether it is shown through playing time from Julien or at contract time from Chiarelli.
“We’re a line that is valued and that’s a rare thing in the NHL,” Campbell said. “I think the importance of depth and a fourth line has really come to light in the last couple years. When you see the teams that have won have been teams that have really relied on their whole lineup. We play an important role. Obviously our role is different than a lot of other players, and it’s not as glamorous, but nonetheless it’s important.”
The Bruins recognized that, and made sure their fourth-line contributors won’t be leaving Boston any time soon.