Retirement, front-office transition bittersweet for Brian Campbell

Brian Campbell is entirely capable of playing another season in the NHL. He feels good. He looked good in the second half of last season after a somewhat shaky start. And he fielded phone calls from other teams as free agency opened a few weeks ago.

But the Blackhawks told him they were going in a different direction. And Campbell didn’t want to go to a different city. On Tuesday, the tears in his eyes, the catch in his voice, and the tenor of his words suggested he is entering retirement with some reluctance.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” Campbell said. “Even at the end of the season, I just didn’t know if I was ready to do it anymore. July 1 was a tough day. There’s been some tough days. But I think we’re happy with our decision.”

That he gets to not only stay in his adopted hometown of Chicago, but in the Blackhawks organization, provided plenty of solace, though. Campbell had the highlight of his career in Chicago, winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 and assisting on Patrick Kane’s Cup-winning goal in Philadelphia. Campbell met his wife, Lauren, in Chicago. He wants to raise his little girls, Harper and Everley, in Chicago.

Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell won the Stanley Cup in 2010. (AP Photo)

And while the last of his 17 NHL seasons ended in disappointment with a first-round sweep against the Nashville Predators, Campbell was grateful he got to return for one last hurrah.

“Lauren and I have talked about that a lot,” Campbell said, fighting back tears. “I don’t think I’d want to retire any other way but as a Blackhawk. It was fun. I had a blast.”

Campbell will be a special advisor for the Hawks, working on the business side and assisting with youth hockey initiatives. Hawks president John McDonough noted that Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille took a similar post-career route, and is now the president of the Los Angeles Kings.

“There’s a very good chance today I hired my replacement,” McDonough joked.

Campbell came to Chicago as a highly sought-after free agent in 2008. And the Hawks doling out a then-staggering eight-year, $57-million contract to snag him was a seminal moment in the transition from the franchise’s dark ages to its golden age.

“That day, I think our franchise was really elevated to another level, and it really paved the way for free agents, that Chicago was a destination,” McDonough said. “And Brian played a major role in helping us win the Stanley Cup in 2010.”

As for that famous assist?

“Maybe I should have shot that puck,” Campbell said with a laugh.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus