SAN JOSE, Calif. - Last week in New York City, Brian Campbell happened into a restaurant where a few San Jose Sharks were having dinner during their road trip. Buffalo's all-star defenceman said hello to several acquiantances, including childhood buddy Joe Thornton.
Campbell will have a seat at that table next time.
San Jose acquired the Sabres' coveted defenceman at the trade deadline Tuesday, giving up forward Steve Bernier and a first-round draft pick to get one of the NHL's best power-play quarterbacks and two-way players, along with a seventh-round pick.
Campbell still hadn't absorbed the move after his final practice with the Sabres. His eyes teared up repeatedly as he discussed his difficult departure from Buffalo and his new opportunities with the Sharks, pre-season Stanley Cup contenders who have been mildly disappointing despite their fifth-place standing in the Western Conference.
"It's a shock," Campbell said, though his departure has been rumoured for weeks. "There's a lot of good years here in Buffalo. Once it happens, it hits home pretty fast, but I'm looking forward to it now."
The deal capped months of agonizing in Buffalo over the fate of Campbell, a homegrown talent who became a two-time all-star after improving his offensive game in Finland during the NHL lockout. The Sabres' beleaguered fans hoped to keep their beloved "Soupy" after losing Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Sharks forward Mike Grier and other good players in recent years, but Campbell's play suffered while he wrangled for a lucrative long-term extension.
"I've loved every minute of it," Campbell said. "I hope they've enjoyed watching me play. Don't boo me when I come back. C'mon, that's all. Don't boo me."
General manager Darcy Regier reluctantly acquired a young power forward and a draft pick from the grateful Sharks, who have the salary cap space and long-term structure to make a big-money offer to Campbell - though San Jose GM Doug Wilson said the club will wait on any contract talks.
Regier and Campbell, who broke off contract talks last weekend, had an uncommonly emotional meeting with coach Lindy Ruff before announcing the trade.
"We would all have preferred to have him here and keep him here," Regier said. "But this is part of the new (collective bargaining agreement) that we'll have to deal with."
Campbell won't make his Shark Tank debut until next week. The Sharks are five games into an eight-game East Coast road trip, their longest of the season, with a game at Columbus on Wednesday night.
The Sharks also made two lesser moves, trading defenceman Rob Davison to the New York Islanders and signing veteran backup goalie Brian Boucher. Davison was unlikely to play much after Campbell's arrival.
Wilson felt his club chiefly needed a puck-moving, scoring defenceman, and Campbell fits the bill. He's tied for seventh among NHL defencemen with 43 points (5 goals, 38 assists) in 62 games, and he was leading the Sabres with more than 25 minutes of ice time per game.
Though Campbell's life has been dominated by his contract situation recently, both Wilson and Campbell plan to get comfortable with each other before talking money. But after getting burned last season by Bill Guerin, who left for the Islanders after a terrible rental performance, Wilson is certain to pursue a deal with Campbell.
"We don't view anybody as a rental player," said Wilson, who also signed deadline acquisition Craig Rivet to a four-year contract last summer. "If there's an opportunity to make your team better, you've got to do it. We've talked about this, and we were pretty open about what our needs were. If we hadn't backed that up, I'm not sure it would have necessarily been a good thing."
The Sharks once had high hopes for Bernier, a first-round pick in 2003 who aspires to be a high-scoring, physical forward in the mold of Luc Robitaille. Instead, he's expected to debut with Buffalo on Wednesday.
Bernier earned a roster spot in San Jose two years ago with a strong rookie campaign, but the Quebec City native had barely progressed since then, reporting to 2006 training camp out of shape and then struggling offensively this season.
Bernier has just 13 goals and 10 assists in 59 games, making him perhaps the Sharks' biggest underachiever other than captain Patrick Marleau, who stayed with San Jose after numerous trade rumours.
"I know Campbell is pretty much the best defenceman in the league," Bernier said. "From my point of view, it's going to be tough. I've got a lot of work to do to become a good player, and I'm happy to do it with the Sabres."