How Brian Campbell has become Kyle Davidson’s trusted adviser in Blackhawks’ front office

Just six years since retiring as a player, Brian Campbell has become one of the most influential people in the Hawks’ front office. He has found his niche in this role alongside Davidson, the Hawks’ young general manager.

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Brian Campbell (right) with Kyle Davidson (left.

The friendship between Brian Campbell (right) and Kyle Davidson (left) has ascended to the top of the Blackhawks’ front office.

Chicago Blackhawks

When Kyle Davidson abruptly received the Blackhawks’ interim general manager role in October 2021, he asked Brian Campbell to come along as his advisor — and his right-hand man.

Campbell wasn’t sure what to think. The offer represented a big change from his previous experience. So he called up two teammates from the 2005-06 Sabres — Rangers GM Chris Drury and then-Rangers advisor Mike Grier — to learn about how the relationship worked for them.

Drury and Grier (who since has become the Sharks’ GM) offered one particularly memorable piece of advice: Don’t be a yes-man. Campbell took Davidson’s offer, then took that advice to heart.

“That’s the biggest thing I stick to,” Campbell said. “I’m not going to say yes [to] or agree with everything Kyle says.”

The shift in career direction has worked out well for both Campbell, now officially titled as the Hawks’ hockey operations advisor, and the organization. The duties that initially felt so unfamiliar and overwhelming now feel far more normal and comfortable.

That pattern has repeated itself several times since Campbell retired in 2017 after logging 1,082 NHL appearances over 17 seasons — including 295 over four seasons with the Hawks. His 504 career points still rank 24th among all NHL defensemen since 1999.

He initially dabbled in a variety of intriguing off-ice roles, from radio broadcasting to scouting, before narrowing his focus to defensive prospect development. Along the way, he became close friends with Davidson and Norm Maciver. The three of them built an active group chat discussing topics across sports, and they often would sit together during games.

But Maciver had left for the Kraken when the Hawks’ front office was thrown into upheaval in 2021, meaning Davidson and Campbell essentially had to go it alone while trying to stabilize the organization. They seemed attached at the hip through much of the 2021-22 season, to the extent they rarely were seen apart.

“It was new for me; it was new for Kyle,” Campbell said. “I was probably more nervous than Kyle was about everything. I just tried not to give [him] COVID and tried to help him as much as I could. I would give my opinion, and sometimes he would agree, sometimes he wouldn’t. It was a crazy time.”

Even now, with Maciver back in the fold and Jeff Greenberg, Mark Eaton, Meghan Hunter and a number of others having fleshed out the front-office leadership group, that collaborative culture hasn’t faltered.

Brian Campbell playing in 2017

Brian Campbell was on the ice, playing for the Blackhawks, just six years ago in 2017.

Joel Auerbach/AP file photo

And Davidson and Campbell’s different backgrounds — one in the office, the other on the ice — have made them a strong, complementary pair.

“The best thing about Kyle is he doesn’t pretend to know everything, and neither do I,” Campbell said.

“He sees things even to this day, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I didn’t see that,’ or, ‘Wow, you’re right.’ So his brain is really good. But I don’t think any of us act like we know everything. He’ll ask me about different instances throughout a game, like what I think is going on or what I think players are feeling. We have those conversations all the time.”

Last September, Davidson described Campbell’s advisor title as a “catch-all” term for using him “wherever we think, at a given time, he’s best served.” That ended up being the case.

He spent much of the season in amateur scouting, but not exactly underneath amateur scouting director Mike Doneghey. Instead, he would watch the prospects he chose to watch (with a little guidance from Doneghey) and form his own opinions.

He broke away from that to rejoin Davidson for conversations and planning for the trade deadline. Behind-the-scenes clips produced by the Hawks showed Campbell heavily involved in the negotiations that led to the Patrick Kane and Jake McCabe trades during the Hawks’ West Coast trip in late February.

Helping orchestrate the departure of Kane, a teammate for all four of his on-ice seasons with the Hawks, is probably not what he imagined in 2017 he would be doing in 2023. But his accelerated ascent through the front office has changed his viewpoint on how the business of hockey works.

“I have learned a ton,” he said. “Every day, I phone those guys and bug Jeff and Norm enough. You definitely learn the ins-and-outs of what they’re going through and how to build [a team] and make different decisions.”

Given this isn’t a video-game franchise mode, there are plenty of avenues through which to build a team, and even within the Hawks, there’s rarely complete agreement over which route to take at every fork. Campbell admitted he often leans toward “wanting it a little bit more” — perhaps favoring the slightly more aggressive routes — but he is building up his patience.

“It’s something I’m getting better at, [recognizing] it’s a year-by-year process, not day-by-day,” he said.

And that recognition is reflected in his assessment of where the Hawks’ rebuild stands. Winning the lottery for the No. 1 pick (and presumably Connor Bedard) makes a massive difference, but it won’t prompt Davidson, Campbell and Co. to abandon their slow-and-steady approach.

“I don’t get too excited about things,” Campbell said. “I just want to see a bit of progress. We saw that out of Lukas [Reichel] this year; we saw that out of [Alex] Vlasic.

“We’re allowing these guys to develop at their pace, which is important. It’s something I was able to do as a player. Sometimes you dislike it as a player because you want everything right away. But maybe they’ll look back on it in five or 10 years and be like, ‘Yeah, that was the best thing for me.’ ”

Campbell, who will turn 44 on Tuesday, might say the same thing in five or 10 years about his own career pivot.

At this point, he feels stable and satisfied in his upper-management role. The chaos has settled down, optimism for the team’s future has increased and he has figured out how to be the opposite of a yes-man.

“I have a big voice in [the front office],” Campbell said. “My opinion is asked at all times, and I give my opinion and Kyle can make the decisions from there. Obviously, I want to keep growing, keep getting better, and then maybe more responsibilities [will] come my way at some point. But I’m comfortable with where I’m at and what my job is.”

NOTE: The Hawks re-signed goalie Arvid Soderblom last week to a two-year contract with an affordable $962,500 salary-cap hit. The 23-year-old Swede is expected to join Petr Mrazek in the Hawks’ rotation next season.

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