Following an offseason full of activity, most organizations have a different look throughout their lineup as they head into training camp. Like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who watched Frederik Andersen move on to the Carolina Hurricanes via free agency after Petr Mrázek had become a Maple Leaf the day prior. Mrázek and Jack Campbell now create a tandem in Toronto that hopes to collectively continue the goaltending success set in motion throughout 2020-21.
There seem to be two polarizing views that have arisen in the aftermath of this goalie swap. One side argues that it’s generated more questions than answers in net for Toronto. A stance shared by my colleague at The Hockey Writers, Kevin Armstrong. Whereas I’m of the camp that has gained an added level of optimism from what was a necessary change of scenery for each starter.
Campbell Earned His Keep in Toronto
It’s not as though Campbell was just handed the keys to Toronto’s crease. This was an overdue opportunity, following unparalleled perseverance. Campbell was a first-round pick at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. A decade into his professional career, he had only made it into 58 games before joining the Maple Leafs in 2019-20. Others facing that same scenario could have easily called it quits years ago. Yet, Campbell’s patience paid off.
While it’s fair to point out the fact that Campbell gained playing time thanks to Andersen being forced to the sidelines with injury, it’s irrational to ignore that his efforts are what kept him in. If he wasn’t getting the job done, Kyle Dubas would have been forced to find a fix as Toronto wasn’t in a position to gamble with their goaltending. Fortunately, starting Campbell became a safe bet.
Campbell strung together a season worthy of owning this new role with the Maple Leafs. He didn’t merely blend into the background as a reliable backup should. He moved the needle in a direction this franchise needed it to sway. Despite navigating injuries of his own throughout 2020-21, he even proved effective at bouncing back.
Maple Leafs Need Campbell’s Mentality
It’s no secret that Campbell has been hard on himself following team failures. While it can be argued that the blame should be shared, it’s not a bad thing that one part of the overall operation takes their duties so seriously. Far from leading to concern surrounding his mental toughness, that type of mindset is what separates those willing to accept mediocrity from the few who rise above it.
Simply stated, Campbell’s is the type of attitude that should be embraced and emulated by every Maple Leaf. For a franchise that constantly has its character in question, showing such an explicit desire to achieve is far from a bad look. Perhaps an elevation of emotion is what this organization needs, to finally find an effective way to push past their perennial First Round exit.
Toronto Picked Mrázek Over Andersen
Just because the Hurricanes decided to change things up in their crease in allowing Mrázek to walk, doesn’t mean the direction they chose was the right one. Nor does overpaying for Andersen’s assistance suggest that he’s actually the more valuable of the two. If this proves anything, it’s that Dubas has another successful negotiation to add to his resume.
There’s no shying away from the fact that Mrázek had a small sample size to reference last season, after only making it into 12 contests. Yet, Andersen’s activity was minimal in its own right, with 24 games played through 2020-21. Although neither amount of ice time can conclude what each netminder is capable of on a larger scale, there’s no denying that Mrázek’s stat line was superior.
Andersen and Mrázek actually have fairly similar track records to this point in their careers. Both in terms of what they’ve achieved and what they’ve yet to. However, while they may share a similar platform at the moment, they are trending in drastically different directions. Comparing the recent play of both, beyond just their handful of games last year, it’s clear Mrázek is ascending as Andersen struggles to keep up.
This Goalie Tandem Is Worth Rooting For
We can all create reasons to critique the moves that Dubas has made, during this or any other offseason he’s influenced. Some may pan out and others may not. It’s the nature of the business, let alone the sport. However, I’m content in doing my part to infuse some necessary optimism into a fanbase that may be lacking it at the moment. To me, this team’s outlook is much improved and their stance between the pipes plays a large part in it all.
It’s not to downplay what Andersen was able to do as a Maple Leaf, in bringing a level of stability to the role that hadn’t been there in the years prior to his arrival. The time had simply come for both parties to move on and, in doing so, Toronto found a way to navigate towards a more prolific path.
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Ultimately, Toronto answered the question of how their net would be managed when they upgraded to a tandem that now includes Campbell and Mrázek. Although results will always dictate which side of any debate aligned more accurately, it’s already fair to proclaim that the Maple Leafs’ goaltending is positioned to be the best it’s been in quite some time.