Oilers Might Make Risky Move With Struggling Jack Campbell

*Written by: Jim Parsons and Colton Pankiw

After a few rough starts to begin the 2022-23 season, optimism remained amongst the Edmonton Oilers fan base regarding Jack Campbell. After all, the former Toronto Maple Leaf, who was signed to a five-year, $25 million deal by Ken Holland this summer, was believed to be the man who would fix this team’s longstanding goaltending issues. Through the quarter point of the season, however, that has been far from the case.

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What started as slight concern regarding Campbell has become an outright panic. It’s early, but a 4.12 goals against average (GAA) along with a .872 save percentage (SV%) in just 14 games is a major concern. Those are not numbers you see from an NHL netminder, let alone one who is being paid this handsomely.

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Given his serious struggles, many Oilers fans have already tried to figure out ways Holland can move on from him this offseason. Some have suggested trade proposals while others are already suggesting a buyout. The latter option may be a bit drastic, but is a true testament to just how poorly this signing has panned out so far. In fact, even Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes a major decision may need to be made.

Jack Campbell Edmonton Oilers
Jack Campbell, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Speaking on The Jeff Marek Show this morning, Friedman didn’t sugar-coat how things have gone thus far. The highly credible insider first suggested that the Oilers should perhaps not allow Campbell to speak for the media over the next short period, as he tends to beat himself up a lot. What was far more noteworthy, however, was his suggestion that a potential option could be sending him to the American Hockey League (AHL) in order to gain more confidence, similar to what the L.A. Kings did with Cal Petersen earlier in the week.

Should the Oilers Consider This?

It’s a drastic idea that seems completely out there, but might not be. Is this something the Oilers would really consider? Both myself and fellow THW contributor Colton Pankiw were asking that question, so we figured we’d get together and try to answer it.

Colton’s Response: Campbell is Nearly Unstartable

In my personal opinion, this is something that has to be highly considered at this point. It is early into the season, and Campbell has had a tendency to be a streaky goaltender, but he is nearly unstartable right now. If his GAA was even in the mid-threes, paired with a SV% in the low .890s or even low .880s, I’d be preaching patience. However, he isn’t even close to those numbers, which is beyond concerning.

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In the first year of a five-year deal that pays him $5 million annually, there is absolutely zero chance that Campbell would get claimed on waivers. In fact, it’s fair to question whether or not any other team would have given him anywhere close to the same deal as the Oilers this summer. That isn’t to the fault of Holland, as he needed a goaltender desperately, but it became quite evident months in advance that they would be the team to land him in free agency due to that desperation.

The good news for the Oilers, and what makes this scenario plausible, is that Stuart Skinner has been very solid when called upon this season. The 24-year-old owns a 2.91 GAA along with a .914 SV% in 12 appearances, and, at the very least, looks capable of handling a number of consecutive starts should Campbell indeed be assigned to the AHL.

Related: 3 Oilers’ Trade Targets on Struggling Teams

If this were to happen, the goaltender coming up would likely be Calvin Pickard, a journeyman who has logged 116 career games at the NHL level. Though he has struggled with a 3.12 GAA and a .899 SV% in eight appearances with the Bakersfield Condors, it would be hard, if not impossible, to perform much worse with the big club than Campbell has thus far. On top of that, he would likely only receive one or two starts at most, as the Oilers have just one back-to-back set in the coming weeks.

This certainly isn’t an ideal situation but is one that may prove beneficial down the road. It is still early enough that Campbell would have plenty of time to go down, get his head on straight, and come back to help the Oilers well before the midway point of the 2022-23 season. By all accounts, he has a team-first-like mentality, so if there is someone who would accept this assignment, as embarrassing as it may be, it’s him.

Jim’s Response: Holland Has Little to Lose and Lot to Gain

On the surface, it seems almost insane to even consider demoting the guy you signed just months ago to be your No. 1 netminder, but I would absolutely try this if I were Ken Holland. There is one negative and a few positives that could come out of this. The negative is that an emotionally fragile goaltender might have his spirits crushed and his confidence ruined by such a demotion. If he can never shake it off or he gets lit up by AHL-level shooters, that’s bad news for the Oilers. At the same time, if something like this affects Campbell for four more seasons, maybe he’s not the guy Edmonton needs.

Ken Holland Edmonton Oilers GM
Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers GM (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The potential positives are that this wakes up Campbell, who I figured would find his game. The ideal situation is that Campbell comes back refreshed and motivated and goes on a heater, something he’s done before in his career. Conversely, if he’s claimed (by some miracle at his salary) the Oilers moved a $5 million cap problem for free and they can go about trying to find a 1B for Stuart Skinner who looks like he’s close to ready but probably isn’t to take on a full slate of starting assignments.

With the difference in cost between a 1B and what Campbell was, the Oilers can address other needs.

Again, Friedman is right in that Campbell isn’t likely to be claimed. The risk is minimal if the Oilers don’t actually want to move the player. I was prepared to wait for Campbell to figure it out and assumed with enough starts he’d do so. The problem now is, the more you put him in the net and the more he falters, the more trouble it is for the Oilers who don’t have a huge cushion in which to absorb losses. I’d look at Olivier Rodrigue as the possible call-up. He’s been excellent for Bakersfield.

Waiving Campbell Is An Out There Idea

Just the fact this is even being discussed points arrows directly at a major issue for the Oilers. Down the road in Calgary, Jacob Markstrom is struggling too, but there’s a firm belief he’s a good enough netminder to get things back on track. That same leeway is not being extended to Campbell, who hasn’t been good since arriving in Edmonton.

Oilers fans would love nothing more than for the netminder to find his game and feel good about himself. Unfortunately, it seems there’s only so long a team can wait and so much patience can be given to a goalie who looks completely lost.