Ahead of such a high-pressure regular season where the Oilers are expected to contend for the cup, there remains a few question marks across the roster. Up front the Oilers have the high end talent needed to win championships, but it remains to be seen if the rest of the group can consistently outscore opponents when McDavid isn’t on the ice. And on the blue line, things are looking alright with a top four that should be able to hold its own in the Pacific, although no major game breakers exist on the backend like some of the top teams have - unless of course Bouchard takes another step. But as long as the defence core and the top end stars stay healthy, and a couple youngsters emerge as reliable options, a playoff berth should be achievable.
The biggest concern heading into the regular season is in net with 30-year old Jack Campbell starting the first season of a five-year contract. While he should be a more stable option than someone like Mike Smith, his recent numbers have been pretty similar to those posted by the ‘battler’. So it’s unclear if Campbell is really going to be an upgrade.
Over the last three seasons, Campbell has been right around league average posting a 0.916 save percentage at even-strength, which ranks 32nd among 68 goalies who have played at least 2,000 minutes (~42 games). He also posted a +2.54 goals saved above average (GSAA), which ranks 32nd in the same cohort. For reference, Mike Smith was right behind Campbell, ranking 33rd with a 0.916 save percentage at even-strength and 33rd when it comes to GSAA with +2.53. Worth noting too that Mike Smith was a better goalie when it came to high danger chances, posting a 0.819 high-danger save percentage (HDSV%) ranking 42nd, while Campbell ranked 65th among 68 goalies with a 0.794 save percentage.
And on the penalty kill is where Smith has posted better numbers than Campbell. In the last three seasons, Campbell posted a save percentage of 0.881, which ranked 14th among 66 goalies who played at least 200 shorthanded minutes (~42 games). Smith on the other hand was one of the best goalies in the league, ranking second in the group with a 0.902 save percentage and tied with the Rangers Igor Shesterkin. With the Oilers consistently allowing one of the highest rate of shots against on the penalty kill, both under Tippett and Woodcroft, Smith really bailed the team out posting a +16.47 goals saved above average shorthanded, second only to Shesterkin.
The other issue worth monitoring is how well Campbell handles the workload in Edmonton, which will be slightly higher than what he was used to in Toronto as the Oilers do tend to play more of a free flowing game and willing to exchange scoring chances. Over the last three seasons under head coach Sheldon Keefe, the Leafs allowed one of the lowest rates of shots against in the league at even-strength with 28.55, and allowed 39.52 unblocked shot attempts against (i.e., Fenwick). Under either Woodcroft or Tippett, the Oilers were slightly higher than that and closer to league average levels, allowing about 30 shots against per hour and just over 41 unblocked shot attempts.
That’s not too bad of a difference and it’ll be interesting to see if the Oilers can improve their defensive play. But it’s on the penalty kill where things could get a little rough for Campbell. Over the last three seasons in Toronto under Keefe, Campbell’s teammates allowed 64.51 unblocked shot attempts per hour when shorthanded and 47.38 shots against per hour – numbers much stronger than league average levels. The Oilers on the other hand have been fairly poor on the penalty kill allowing 77.80 unblocked shot attempts against per hour and 56.69 shots against per hour over the last three seasons. Those numbers actually got worse when Woodcroft took over with the Oilers allowing 81.65 unblocked shot attempts against per hour and 59.63 shots against per hour after the coaching change in February 2022. As mentioned above, the Oilers goaltending really bailed out the penalty kill and masked some of the underlying tactical issues. Now it remains to be seen if Campbell can do the same, all while adjusting to a new team and system.
We’ve seen a few goalies in recent years now make their debuts with new teams following success elsewhere and falling flat. Jacob Markstrom was the Flames big off-season signing in 2020 following a career year in Vancouver, but saw his numbers take a hit as he adjusted to new teammates and a new system. And the Flames ended up missing the playoffs that season. Philipp Grubauer was another goalie who had posted solid numbers in Washington and Colorado, was even a Vezina trophy finalist, before signing with Seattle in 2021. But he too struggled adjusting to a new system, and the Kraken ended up finishing last in the Pacific. Considering both goalies were roughly the same age as Campbell when they moved to new teams and had similar pressures to live up to new multi million dollar contracts, you can understand why there might be some trepidation with the Oilers goaltending this upcoming season.
Data: Natural Stat Trick