Defensemen have defensive partners and forwards have linemates, but if there was such a term as “offensive partner,” it would describe Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton‘s roles.
Thornton, who was given a two-year contract extension over the weekend, has certainly left his mark on Campbell’s career, and Campbell knows it. The veteran center came to Boston as part of the Nathan Horton trade after playing the first six seasons of his career with the Panthers. He played on different lines in his time in Florida, but when he came to Boston, he established something with Thornton that has kept the two together from Day 1. He’d never been essentially tied to another player the way he is with Thornton, and he’s proud to be one third of one of the best fourth lines in the NHL. To him, Thornton makes that possible.
“No. I mean, no,” Campbell said when asked whether he had played with anyone in Florida as much as he’s played with Thornton. “I played with Radek Dvorak I think maybe for two years, but not as constantly as almost on a shift-by-shift basis with Thorty.
“It’s a role that I’m happy to play and he’s happy to play, as part of the depth on this team. It’s not too often that you throw out four lines, and obviously he’s a big part of the fourth line, and his role is interchanging all the time. I think that that position, that … combination in the league is not very common any more, where you have a guy that’s obviously very physical and can fight, but that can play. That’s why he’s valued so much.”
Likely due to the fact that his extension has yet to be announced by the team, the always-accessible Thornton was not available to the media. With Thornton not present to speak, it’s no surprise Campbell was happy to share his delight with the news that the veteran enforcer will be sticking around for two more seasons.
“When your play against Thorty, it’s evident to see that he’s a hard-working guy, but once you’re on his team, you realize how important he is to the team, not only on the ice but off the ice [with] the leadership that he brings and the professionalism that he has every day. He has a hard job,” Campbell said. “I mean, there’s not too many guys in the league that can do what he does physically and also contribute not he score sheet once in a while. He’s a good player. I think he’s a real big part of this team, and it obviously shows with them giving him [a new contract].”
The Merlot Line, as Thornton dubbed it based on its burgundy-colored practice jerseys, has consisted of Thornton, Campbell and someone else for the last two seasons. Brad Marchand started on the trio before moving on to bigger and better things with Patrice Bergeron, and Daniel Paille took over from there.
While many teams don’t give significant minutes to fourth-liners, it was the Merlot Line that changed the momentum of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, as the trio of Campbell, Thornton and Paille turned in a big shift that broke up a much stronger start from the Canucks.
When Paille was hurt earlier this month against the Islanders, the B’s had to play defenseman Mike Mottau with Campbell and Thornton. The chemistry developed between the two is so strong that almost anyone could play on that other wing and it will work.
“I think we take pride in our job and our role,” Campbell said. “Sometimes it changes, depending on the game or whatever it may be. I think Thorty and I just have to be a reliable pair, whether there’s injuries or whatnot, we’ve been fortunate enough to be in the lineup for this long, and not being injured or whatever. I think it’s important for us to be that solid pair that can be relied up upon by the coaches and play different roles.”
As the Bruins have slowly shortened their list of free-agents to be, Campbell has seen his teammates get their new deals one by one. Whether or not his comes next remains to be seen, but Campbell doesn’t want to leave.
“Of course it’s where I want to be,” he said with a laugh as if to dismiss the notion of anything else. “This is a great place to play, a great organization and a successful one. Every player wants to play where they’ve had success and there’s more success to come. The important thing now for us, it’s really nice to see those guys get those extensions … but the important thing is focusing on playing and not the other stuff.”