Campbell, Boyle provide a little irony

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- They booed him, and booed him, and booed him again. Every single time he had the puck in Sunday's Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Brian Campbell heard it from the folks at HP Pavilion.

"I wanted to hang onto it [the puck] as long as I could," Campbell said with a laugh Monday. "It's part of the game. They are great fans here and they know the game."

He must have made quite the impression in the two months he was here two years ago, right?

"The fans got a special place in their hearts for him," Dan Boyle said with a smile Monday.

The San Jose Sharks defenseman certainly wasn't booing Campbell. He owes him a beer.

"I wouldn't be here if he was," Boyle said. "It's all good. I'm sure he's happy in Chicago and I'm certainly happy here in San Jose."

Amid the intersecting career paths in this league, which liberalized free agency has exacerbated, Marian Hossa's decision to leave Pittsburgh for Detroit in July 2008 was perhaps the headliner, but not the only massive change made that offseason. Had Mr. Campbell stayed put in San Jose two years ago after coming over as a rental player from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline, Boyle would have never been in San Jose's sights.

Instead, Campbell spurned San Jose's contract offers and signed an eight-year, $57.14 million deal with Chicago on July 1, 2008, which paved the way for Sharks GM Doug Wilson to quickly rebound with the trade acquisition of Boyle from Tampa Bay three days later.

It's hard to picture this Sharks team now without Boyle on it. The veteran blueliner is San Jose's minutes leader and the sparkplug to its transition game, not to mention a leader whose voice and actions have had a huge impact in the dressing room.

"That's his competitiveness," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Monday. "You might see that in his game. The fire in his eyes and in his belly in the locker room, the ability to grab people, take people with them as he's competing. He's very, very strong in that area. There's a real resilience to his game, not only the ability to bounce back, but to play the longer shifts, to get caught on the ice when he's tired. He competes hard in that area.

"Then, obviously, all his skills -- the power play, moving the puck, vision, all that type of stuff. So we're really happy that we have him on our hockey club and wouldn't want to be playing against him."

In the spring of 2008, the last thing on Boyle's mind was San Jose. He had just signed a six-year, $40 million deal with the Lightning that included a no-movement clause, and bought land with visions of building his dream home. But he signed that deal with GM Jay Feaster, who would later be thrown off the apple cart in the ownership chaos that would plague Tampa Bay's franchise for the next two seasons. Feaster would not have traded Boyle.

"At the time, you just signed a six-year deal, getting ready to build a house and settle for likely the remainder of your career, so of course I was nervous, because I didn't know anything about it," said Boyle. "But fast forward two years later, it was a great decision on my part and it certainly worked out."

The Bolts were pressuring Boyle to waive his no-movement clause. He finally did after a conversation with Wilson.

"I don't remember exactly what he said, but I know we had a conversation right before the trade happened," said Boyle. "All I can say is, the second I hung up, I knew I was going to San Jose. I just felt I was in the right hands. And for me, it was about winning. I didn't want to go back to losing, and I knew this team was going in the right direction."

Campbell's decision to leave San Jose surprised some given his close relationship with Sharks center Joe Thornton (the two played hockey together growing up near London, Ontario), not to mention Wilson's close relationship with Campbell's agent, Larry Kelly of Ottawa. But in the end, Campbell hit free agency.

"I was up front with everybody about my intentions," said Campbell. "In the end, I wanted to be a little closer to my family, and Chicago is a great place, an unbelievable team and the best location for me."

Campbell had to break the news to Thornton, who had housed him here in San Jose during his two-month stay.

"That summer, I golfed a lot with Joe, I still do. He's an unbelievable person who is great for the game of hockey, and if anybody gets a chance to know him, they'll see how great a person he is," Campbell said of Jumbo Joe. "He was very professional with me, he wanted me back to San Jose, and I have nothing wrong to say about the Sharks. They were great to me and they're a great organization. But they were also professional, they knew it was my decision. ... You move on from it, at least I have, and I'm sure other people in the organization have. You just move on."

The booing here in San Jose? That'll continue for the time being. Maybe for a long time.

"I'm fine with it," said Campbell. "I've never really been a hated person. The first time I came back here, I thought, 'Ohhh!' I was kind of distracted by it. But after talking to [Hawks coach] Joel [Quenneville], the one thing he said was, 'You think you've got it bad? [Chris] Pronger gets booed in every building he goes into, so take it as a compliment and move on.'"

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.