Discover more from Oil In Goal
Oilers Goalie Search #2: Jack Campbell
Why the former Leafs' goaltender is likely to get more than he's worth in free agency
The first installment of this series focused on Ville Husso, a potentially risky option that had tremendous upside that the Oilers’ should actually be able to afford.
Goalie Target #2: Jack Campbell
Now I’ll turn my focus to an option the Oilers are reportedly heavily interested in: Jack Campbell. Ryan Rishaug and Elliotte Friedman have both mentioned on various platforms the Oilers’ interest in the 30-year-old netminder, with the former mentioning that he is the Oilers’ #1 target while the latter stated that he thought interest could be picking up and that the contract could come in around Cal Petersen’s 5M x 3y contract. Meanwhile, Darren Dreger has speculated that Campbell “probably will get $6 million”.
On the surface, this doesn’t look like a bad thing. Campbell was the Leafs’ primary netminder in a season that saw the team finish 4th overall in an extremely competitive Atlantic Division, ultimately pushing the 2-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning to a 7th game. However, there are a number of red flags that the Oilers should consider before anointing Campbell as their next starter
Campbell has yet to play 50 games in a season
Similar to Husso, Campbell is relatively unproven. This was his first year as the clear-cut number one for his team, and even then, entering the season Petr Mrazek was a factor in the Leafs’ plans. Before that, Campbell was slotted behind Frederik Andersen and Jonathan Quick respectively, stepping up as required for rest and injuries. It was a feel-good story that Campbell was able to flip the narrative from first-round bust to a competent NHL player, but it does raise a question of why it took him so long to find full-time NHL duty. We do know he didn’t handle the pressure of being a 1st round pick well, which didn’t help his developmental arc. This pressure could be similar to that of a new high-value long-term contract, which could affect his mental state of mind while stopping pucks. Even since he has established himself as an NHL regular, this next red flag is an issue.
Campbell is injury prone
During every single season that Jack Campbell has played double-digit NHL games, he has suffered an in-season injury. These stints away from the team include multiple knee injuries, a rib injury, and time for a “mental block” (Mental health should be priority #1, but in the case of it becoming somewhat of a pattern as is the case for Campbell, the lack of availability for his NHL squad becomes an issue). The Oilers just went through similar issues over the past two seasons with Mike Smith, where having an unreliable option spend large stints on the injured list thrust Mikko Koskinen into a position where it wasn’t reasonable to expect success. This year, that workload would likely be placed on rookie Stuart Skinner. At least in the case of Smith, he wasn’t being paid big dollars, with a large part of his compensation being tied to GP bonuses to reflect just that. Regardless of what you think of Campbell’s play itself, signing him to big money to be the team’s presumptive starter when he’s already showing a significant injury history at the age of 30 is an extremely risky bet.
Campbell’s style of play lends itself to inconsistency and is likely not a fit behind Dave Manson’s defensive system
One description of Campbell’s play is that Campbell plays like a street hockey goalie. This is likely a bit harsh, but I can see where the comparisons come from. Campbell’s game is primarily based on reads and instincts, reacting to each individual play as he sees it coming toward him. This includes playing with a lot of flow, which means that his feet are frequently moving as he tries to feel out the play happening in front of him. In itself, this lends itself to some high stretches of inconsistency. Now in order to play at the NHL level, each goalie needs to have some technical base, but when a goalie skews to the reactionary side of that spectrum, they can become highly susceptible if things aren’t just right. If there’s a stretch where his reads are off or the opposition identifies target areas that can be exploited, said goalie will be chasing the play, being repeatedly put in positions where saves just aren’t capable of being made. Or if the said goalie is feeling a little banged up, his ability to react quickly and directly as he would normally be able to would be hampered, and he could get beat clean on shots that should be stopped.
This is actually very similar to what would happen with Mike Smith. Proven over the course of multiple years, Smith would have 10-game streaks of >930 SV% and <900 SV% in the same season. This season, Campbell saw the same thing. The Leafs’ goaltender had a record of 18–5–3 with a .935 SV% (second in the league) and a 2.02 goals-against average at the time of his all-star selection, which was followed by a .890 SV% in his last 25 regular-season games and a 0.987 SV% in the series against Tampa Bay. Hockey is a game of discrete sample sizes, with each game being worth the same 2 points (or 3, thanks Bettman). It doesn’t matter how good a goalie’s peak is, if a goalie is inconsistent, there’s going to be a considerable amount of points that just aren’t attainable for the team. Ultimately, this is what cost the Oilers this year in the playoffs, as despite Smith leveling out to around expected, the valleys in his play were such that the Oilers were simply not afforded the chance to compete in a number of games.
This consistency factor will be particularly important as the Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson era continues in Edmonton. There were large portions of the fanbase that pointed out that the expected goals against numbers under the new coaching staff were not that different compared to their predecessors in Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair. However, the most noticeable change that occurred to the Oilers’ defensive structure was that they make a focused effort to defend against the rush and against cross-ice chances, which are the most dangerous chances in hockey according to Clear Sight Analytics. The result is a defensive environment for the goalie where the shots and chances usually come in predictable ways from predictable locations. Based on this, the Oilers might be better served to have a goalie that relies more on a technical base that has shown to be more repeatable but might not have the same ability to work outside the box.
Jack Campbell has had a couple of pretty good seasons since joining the Maple Leafs. He has been a “good guy” around the locker room and a feel-good story since bouncing back from being written off as a 1st round goalie bust. For the first time in his career, Campbell is set to get paid as a free agent, which is great because I personally enjoy the good people in the game getting rewarded. However, his player profile is riddled with red flags, making signing the 30-year-old goaltender to a big-money long-term deal a risky endeavor. Campbell actually has quite a few similarities on the ice to Mike Smith, but Oiler fans have seen that movie before and would like to avoid a repeat. For the money that it would cost to sign Campbell, I believe there are better and more reliable options available on both the trade and free-agent market.
You can find me on Twitter @OilInGoal