Once the Edmonton Oilers 2021-22 campaign officially came to a close, Ken Holland was left with more than few decisions to make with regards to his roster. While some were more pressing than others, none was as critical as finding a starting goaltender for the 2022-23 season. Inking Jack Campbell to a 5-year/$25 million deal comes with risk but something had to give and here we are.
On the surface, it would be hard to argue against those suggesting the Oilers overpaid in order to get their guy. However, signing highly coveted unrestricted free agents and giving up a little more money (with a lot more term) is part of the equation. For a third consecutive off-season, Holland had a goaltending target in mind and being a three time runner-up wasn’t going to happen.
Situation aside, Campbell has been good for much of the past four seasons…be it as a clear cut no. 1, part of a tandem or as a backup. His resume is lacking for a player who was selected in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft but the Michigan native didn’t exactly set the world on fire early in his career. Some will view that as a negative but others will point to it as a potential positive.
Unless we are talking about an athlete who is well past their prime playing years, experience is never a bad thing. With that said, becoming a starting goalie early on in a career, can lead to potential burnout or showing signs of wear and tear much sooner than expected. With a grand total of 149 regular season and playoff appearances under his belt, Campbell doesn’t have that problem.
Outside of playing in 49 games this past season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has managed to eclipse the 30-game threshold on one other occasion in the NHL. In fact, the 30-year old appeared in 40-plus games exactly twice during his time in the AHL, which goes all the way back to 2011-2012. In other words, there should still be a ton tread left on his tires and the Oilers are banking on that being the case.
This organization believes (hopes???) that they have a guy in-house with real potential in Stuart Skinner, which could make this the perfect landing spot for both the player and club. The need to carry a heavier workload shouldn’t be there, as the club wants to see what Skinner is. In a perfect world, Campbell starts 50 to 55 games, which falls perfectly in line with the progression we’ve seen in recent years.
The other thing to keep in mind, the guy is well-versed in what life is like for a starting goaltender on one of the league’s best offensive sides and to do it in a hockey crazed market. Expectations in Edmonton will be no different than Toronto. When you win, all is good. When you lose, nothing could be further from the truth and that takes getting used to.
Though the Maple Leafs have been far more consistent in recent years, the Oilers have also enjoyed regular season success for the past number seasons. In both markets, all that really matters is success during the playoffs and that is never going to change. Toronto has yet to achieve any of that and though it was by no means solely on Campbell, it did play a large part in his eventual departure.
As the first-round failures continue to pile up for the Leafs, that hurdle has been cleared in Edmonton. By reaching this year’s Western Conference Final, right or wrong, the opening round jitters will now be viewed as a thing of the past for this group. The focus now shifts towards winning the Stanley Cup and while it may not be quite that simple, that is the reality of the situation.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were able to carry their team to multiple playoff victories this year and that changes things. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have not yet been able to get the Maple Leafs there and until they do, the uncertainty will only grow. It not only weighs on them but also the rest of the roster, organization and fan base…something Oilers fans are all too familiar with.
Campbell will inherit a team that believes they can win a playoff series and that alone should make his lot in life much easier handle. Of course, it guarantees nothing but confidence matters and this group of Oilers now has it. Again, doing well in the regular season is secondary and as Edmonton has proven, top flight goaltending isn’t a requirement in order to compete for the Pacific Division crown.
With a full 82-game schedule at his disposal, there is no reason why Jack Campbell can’t, at the very least, be the guy we saw play goal in Toronto. Yes, he had his ups and downs but for the most part, he was good and the same could be said of his playoff performances. As long as he doesn’t give games away and allows his team a chance to win, the rest of the roster should be able to take care of the rest.