Campbell going back to Cali?

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

The outcome of ongoing dialogue among two of the all-time best 67's defencemen and a prominent Ottawa NHL player agent is expected to go a long way in determining the route the Senators take in their off-season pursuit of free agents.

Likely and wisely, Bryan Murray is already less focused on "B.C." than he is on a Plan B and C.

The Senators GM has made no secret of his fondness for Brian Campbell, the brilliant skater/puck mover/power play quarterback who will test the UFA process July 1 if he isn't re-signed by the San Jose Sharks. Campbell, who was named the Canadian Hockey League's player of the year in his last of four seasons (1995-99) playing for Brian Kilrea, would certainly be among the plums of the market, too, potentially attracting offers between $6 million and $8 million per season.

But right now, he and his agent, Larry Kelly, are permitted to talk only with Sharks GM Doug Wilson, a star with the 67's from 1974-77.

The conversations are apparently going well -- and are held often.

'VERY UP-FRONT'

"I like Doug ... he's very up-front," Campbell said Monday from his off-season home in London, Ont., 10 minutes after getting off the phone with Wilson. "He's a players' GM that way."

The Chicago Blackhawks, whom Wilson played with for 14 seasons before finishing his career in a Sharks sweater, are said to be among the many teams interested in signing Campbell, who just turned 29. The 'Hawks are rumoured to be prepared to dangle $8 million a year his way.

Unless they make an unforeseen trade, it's unlikely the Senators could get near that ballpark. They are parting company with Wade Redden (thus the need for a Campbell) and his $6.5-million salary, as well as Ray Emery and his $3.5-million stipend, but some of that cash will go to Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, who will get raises to $10 million and $8 million, respectively, in 2008-09.

Campbell, who earned $1.75 million last season, insists he hasn't made up his mind on where he wants to sign.

"I guess where I'm going to be the happiest," he said. "The money is going to be there either way. It'll come down to the place I want to be.

"I'm not 100% sure what I'm going to do. I don't know what's in store for myself. I've got a lot to think about."

Twisting his arm has been Joe Thornton, the Sharks' marquee player and a childhood friend of Campbell.

Also working in San Jose's favour is the closeness of the team -- and not just its proximity to a shot at the Stanley Cup.

Following their elimination from the Western Conference semi-finals by the Dallas Stars, a group of more than 15 Sharks players, trainers and public relations staff went to Las Vegas for a few days.

"The PR guys are my friends," said Campbell, who was acquired by the Sharks from Buffalo at the trade deadline for Steve Bernier and a first-round pick. "I stayed with Joe, and the PR guy was over at the house for dinner two times a week.

"Any time you get 15 guys to take a trip together when it's not mandatory ... it's a pretty close team."

Among Campbell's deciding factors will be who replaces Ron Wilson as San Jose's next coach. Campbell said the GM is taking his time with the decision and has discussed it with him.

Also, Campbell must decide if he'd prefer to play in a city where hockey is front and centre in the newspapers and on the sportscasts -- like Buffalo and Ottawa -- or California.

"It's a great place to play," Campbell said of San Jose. "The organization is really good. The guys on the team are really good. It's not a hockey, hockey city, but they sell out the building and it's really loud.

BIG CHANGE

"It has its positives and negatives," Campbell, who had rock-star popularity when he was with the Sabres, added of the relative obscurity.

"The positive is the weather is really nice. The negative is that a lot of people don't know about (the Sharks) other than the 17,000 that show up for each game. For me, it was a big change."

For the better or for the worse?

"That's sometimes good," said Campbell. "Sometimes it's not as good."


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