"The rival league, the World Hockey Association, was still going hot and heavy, and they weren't so dumb," pointed out Blues GM Emile Francis, who coveted Campbell. "They'd wait until we held our draft, then they'd look around and see who drafted who before they made their picks."
"It was common knowledge that St. Louis was in financial trouble, and the WHA went after the weak ones."
Houston knew this and drafted the big boy from Toronto.
"I met Campbell's agent, Norm Caplan, one morning," continued Francis. "And he said they already had reservations to fly to Houston the next day to negotiate."
"I told him I'd pay him $25,000 of my own money and put the rest up at camp - that's how much I thought of the kid - but he said if I couldn't come up with $75,000 by the following morning they'd be gone. And they were. Next afternoon Campbell signed with Houston."
Campbell played respectfully in his rookie pro season in Houston. He quietly scored 8 goals and 29 assists for 37 points along with 116 well earned penalty minutes. However all was not rosy in Houston.
"After the first year though, the Aeros were in trouble and were gonna pull out, so we negotiated with them for Campbell, but Winnipeg made them a package deal for him," continued Francis.
Campbell really earned a reputation as a tough guy in 1978-79 with the Jets. He scored just 3 goals and 18 points while picking up 248 PIM! While Campbell was no stranger to the rough going, PIM totals this high were somewhat uncharacteristic.
The WHA as a league folded at the end of the year, and the remaining 4 teams - Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec and Hartford - joined the NHL. Existing NHL teams were permitted to reclaim players they'd lost to the WHA, and the Blues quickly reclaimed Campbell.
However the Blues only had Campbell for less than a day. The 4 WHA teams were allowed two priority picks, to reclaim a couple of their existing players. The Jets reclaimed Campbell. Part of the deal was that the priority picks would have to stay in their respective city for at least 2 years. So the Blues were once again left empty handed.
Campbell and the rest of the Jets struggled in their first NHL seasons. Campbell played in 63 games, scoring 3 goals and 20 points. He also had 136 PIM and a horrific -39 rating.
That year was good compared to Campbell's second year. Campbell only played in 14 games in the entire 1980-81 season due to a terrible shoulder separation. Initially Campbell had surgery, rehabbed and play in the minors to get his conditioning back. When he returned he reinjured the shoulder in a fight.
Emile Francis and the Blues finally got their man on July 3, 1981. The Jets sent Campbell and left winger John Markell - who missed much of the previous season due to mononucleosis - to St. Louis in exchange for backup goalie Ed Staniowski, 25 year old defenseman Bryan Maxwell and promising minor league sniper Paul McLean.
"Winnipeg lost two goalies who signed elsewhere as free agents - Michel Dion with Pittsburgh and Lindsay Middlebrook with Minnesota - and all of a sudden John (Winnipeg GM John Ferguson) needed some goaltending," Francis said.
The Blues were willing to move Staniowski, who the Jets desperately needed. The Blues also had Rick Heinz and Paul Skidmore in their system as respected goalie prospects.
Francis of course was elated to finally get Campbell.
"In junior I thought he was more of an offensive defenseman, but in 4 years as a pro he's been more of a defensive defenseman. Unlike some big guys, Campbell can be physical too, but I think with Winnipeg he was expected to pick up the cudgel and be policeman for some of the smaller players. I'm not sure that's his natural style. What we want him to do with us is to find his own best game and play it."
Campbell never got a chance to find his best game though. He played in only 3 games in St. Louis. He developed serious headaches that would not enable him to play.