The phrase that keeps coming up for me in posts is eerily quiet. Things seem so slow around the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization. It’s an odd offseason.
As I’ve said often, I love every time of the year for the team. My background just keeps popping up in my thinking; and, although I know that being a general manager of a hockey team is way past my pay grade, I just love to try to deconstruct the thinking that goes into the decisions. I keep looking back at the decisions that were made and asking why.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ Commentary, I’ll take a closer look at the team’s goalie situation now that Matt Murray is in and Jack Campbell has moved on.
I Loved Jack Campbell, But …
I loved Jack Campbell as a player, probably because I just thought he was such a great person. He was (and still seems to be) a genuine human who has fought a lot of demons and beat down many of them. With those all too human struggles, he was blessed with great talent and a stellar work ethic. How can an old-school guy like me not appreciate that? And I do.
In fact, as I’ve come to engage more fully in NHL hockey as a writer over the past almost four years, I’ve also come to appreciate that all NHL players possess great talent. Some are just more WOW than others. As much as I liked Campbell and enjoyed almost everything about watching him play, he isn’t an elite goalie in the way that Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin were. In front of a different team, he would have had a much different record.
That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have liked Campbell to stay. Good teams are better than the sum of their individual parts.
But, in looking back at what transpired, I sometimes wonder if Campbell put the Maple Leafs into a bit of a bind because the city liked him so much. I also wonder if the Maple Leafs are not a bit relieved that he’s not with them anymore – especially not at the price the Edmonton Oilers paid for him.
Jack Campbell Was the Definition of Up and Down
Campbell was so loved by Toronto fans and among his teammates that his play as a goalie was sometimes glossed over. He was amazingly up and down. When he was hot, he was on fire. When he wasn’t, he really wasn’t.
Specifically, Campbell played a November for the ages and put up a save percentage of .947. But after that, he faltered. That November save percentage was so good that, almost despite how “average” he was over the rest of the season, his save percentage never dropped below .900. It finished at .914, which was the worst save percentage that he put up with his three seasons with the team.
The Maple Leafs’ Strong Defense Covered for Its Goalies’ Play
Yesterday, Pat Lorusso in Center of Leafs’ Nation suggested that the bet on Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov might not be all that bad. Questioning the narrative that the Maple Leafs are a poor defensive team, Lorusso noted that, of the 20 playoff teams over the last two seasons, the Maple Leafs gave up the third-fewest shots against and surrendered the fifth-fewest goals against.
Yet, last season even with the Maple Leafs’ defense ranked in the top five for these two key defensive analytics, Campbell and Petr Mrazek were two of the NHL’s worst goalies from December to May. In fact, Lorusso believed Campbell’s poor play in the playoffs cost the team a series that could have gone the Maple Leafs’ way. Had Campbell played better than his under .900 save percentage and a 3.15 goals-against average, the Maple Leafs could have easily won the opening round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Still, looking back at the whole of the 2021-22 season, the team finished with 115 points even though it was led by goalies who only played one month of hockey “at/over a .900 save percentage.”
Comparing Campbell to Murray with Goals Saved Above Expected
Goals Saved Above Expected is a really interesting analytic to study. It’s calculated by the league’s average save percentage with the number of shots a goalie has had. It tries to account for the quality of shots a goalie faces and works to level the playing field so that goalies who play for a good or a bad defensive team can be measured against each other.
Using that statistic, last season the Maple Leafs as a team had defensive numbers that compared well across the league; however, Campbell ranked 35th overall in Goals Saved Above Expected. Matt Murray ranked 23rd overall. The context was that Campbell was playing on the Maple Leafs and Murray was playing in the net for a rebuilding Ottawa Senators team.
Might Murray Be an Upgrade on Campbell?
Obviously, no one will know how all this works out until the first puck is dropped on the 2022-23 regular season. Still, looking at the team’s decision not to re-sign Campbell at $5 million for five seasons suggests that it might not be such a bad idea.
I wish Campbell well with the Oilers. But, more than that, I am hoping that the bet on Murray will prove to have been a good one. The thing with the Maple Leafs is that because they are such a good team they can cover for their goalies’ iffy play.
What the team needs is a strong playoff goalie. Murray has two Stanley Cup rings. Last season, he bettered Campbell in advanced analytics. He’s the goalie in the Maple Leafs’ net. I wish him good luck.