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Blackhawks lure Brian Campbell back to Chicago on the cheap

Brian Campbell led all NHL defensemen with a plus-31 rating last season with the Florida Panthers. (Getty Images)

Brian Campbell is coming home.

Oh, sure, technically, Campbell is from Strathroy, Ontario, about halfway between Detroit and Toronto. But ever since his three-year stint with the Blackhawks from 2008-2011, Chicago has been his home. Not his second home, but his actual home. His wife is from Chicago. He lives in the area during the offseason. Even his agent is based in Chicago. And now Campbell’s hoping to chase one more Stanley Cup in Chicago.

“I couldn’t be more excited to play for my hometown team,” Campbell said Friday after signing a one-year contract worth $2.25 million (assuming he plays 10 games, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun). “It’s where my heart is. It’s where I want to play. Obviously, the last time I was a free agent, money played a factor in it. This time, it was about what’s best for me and my family.”

Campbell had other, more lucrative offers on the table, including a reported $5-million one-year deal to stay with the Florida Panthers. But the 37-year-old defenseman, who just banked $57 million during his last contract, made it clear that he was willing to give the Hawks a discount.

“I wasn’t going to play for the league minimum, but I was definitely ready to take a lot less,” he said.

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said that Campbell would be the only high-level player the Hawks sign in free agency, thanks to a tight salary-cap situation. But it’s a significant one. Campbell solves two significant problems for the Hawks — he fills a glaring hole as the likely No. 4 defenseman, and he does it on the cheap. That’s the trump card Bowman always has to play, even when trapped by the cap — veterans see Chicago as an ideal place to play, and to chase the Cup.

“It’s obviously an honor that guys believe in what we’re trying to do in Chicago,” Bowman said. “We’re certainly excited about that. I’m sure he had other opportunities. It speaks a lot to the kind of person Brian is. He’s a winner, he wants to win. I think he believes in our organization and believes in our chance next year. It’s nice to know that they want to be a part of what we’re doing in Chicago.”

By signing the smooth-skating puck-mover, as well as adding Czech defenseman Michal Kempny in May, the Hawks now have the kind of depth on the blue line they haven’t had since Johnny Oduya left for Dallas last summer.

Suddenly, Trevor van Riemsdyk can be a third-paring guy. And still-developing youngsters such as Erik Gustafsson and Viktor Svedberg, as well as aging veteran Michal Rozsival, will be rotation players at best, not everyday players.

“This was our priority, clearly.” Bowman said. “I’m not going to say we won’t sign anyone else, but our main focus was to sign Brian. It’s important to have a strong group on defense and I really like the mixture we have now.”

Campbell had six goals and 25 assists in 82 games last season with the Florida Panthers, leading all defensemen in plus/minus and putting up positive possession numbers. He led the Panthers in ice time with an average of 22:16 per game. He’s already spoken with coach Joel Quenneville, and is hoping he can be the second-pairing guy the Hawks need, likely paired with Brent Seabrook.

“I have a lot left in the tank,” he said. “I feel great. I felt like I had a really good season this past year, and over the past number of years. If I’m in a top-four role, great. If not, I accept whatever they give me and I’ll work hard. There’s no egos here. For me, it’s about doing what’s best to win.”

NOTEWORTHY: The Hawks placed defenseman David Rundblad on waivers for the purposes of a buyout. Rundblad has one year left on his contract, and would actually carry a smaller cap hit buried in the minors than if he is bought out, but Bowman said the defenseman was seeking a “fresh start.” Meanwhile, Andrew Ladd signed a seven-year deal with the New York Islanders, worth an average of $5.5 million per season. Dale Weise signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.