Maple Leafs: Reviewing the Campbell/Clifford Deal

With Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen out with a neck injury that he suffered against the Florida Panthers, there were two crucial loses that impacted the teams position in the standings. The goaltending situation is getting bleaker by the minute where important points are being lost. In addition, they’re starting to lose momentum.

General manager Kyle Dubas made the decision to act on his team’s recent play by acquiring goaltender Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford in exchange for Trevor Moore, a third-round draft pick in 2020 and a conditional third-round pick in 2021. The 2021 pick becomes a second rounder if Clifford re-signs with the Maple Leafs or they make the playoffs this season and Campbell wins six games. 

It wasn’t a blockbuster, but it was a critical move if the Maple Leafs want to see the playoffs again. They gave Hutchinson multiple chances to prove himself and he hasn’t delivered. It had to be done and this should be the start of more moves to come from Dubas. 

Campbell In, Hutchinson Out

It’s no secret that the Maple Leafs were desperately shopping for a more capable backup goaltender over Hutchinson. Even though he has four wins in his last eight appearances, he has failed to make any impact in relief when he was called upon. In addition, he has allowed three goals or more in five of his last seven games.

Sub-par goaltending was the result and in two key games, he allowed two extremely weak goals. While the defense hasn’t helped him out, you need your goalie to make a key save at certain points in the game and Hutchinson hasn’t done that consistently. The saves become even more important now that they’re in a tight playoff race in the Atlantic Division. 

With Campbell in the fold, he immediately replaces Hutchinson as the go-to guy with Andersen out to provide a more steady presence in the crease. Despite being on a Los Angeles Kings team that has struggled the past few seasons, Campbell has done a solid job as the backup for them. While his 8-10-2 record may not indicate that, his 2.85 goals against average (GAA) and .900 save percentage (SV%) stands out. It’s already a major improvement over Hutchinson’s less than impressive numbers (3.66 GAA, .886 SV%). Being on a team with a better record and with playoff aspirations might give Campbell more confidence than before.

Jack Campbell, Mark Giordano
Newly acquired Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell looks to provide a steady presence as a backup. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

A former first-round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2011, Campbell also had impeccable numbers the previous year with a 2.30 GAA and a .928 SV% on a poor Kings team. Like this year, his stats are great, but the record is average (10-14-1). Campbell is under contract at $675,000 and then jumps to $1.65 million the next two seasons as his extension kicks in. This is a contract the Maple Leafs can definitely afford based on their current cap situation.. He could be the answer to their backup woes and earn another contract with the team when his expires.

In a time where points are extremely crucial and Andersen out for the time being, all hope rests on Campbell’s shoulders. While they Maple Leafs are in the playoff hunt, the backup issue stems after last season when the Maple Leafs let go of Curtis McElhinney for Garret Sparks. Hutchinson wasn’t going to cut it if they were going to battle for a spot. Let’s just hope it isn’t too late, where it could’ve been easily avoided early on in the season.

Clifford Adds Toughness to Roster

The addition, Clifford brings in a need that the Maple Leafs have been lacking for some time; toughness and character.

Kyle Clifford Los Angeles Kings
The Maple Leafs acquired Kyle Clifford to provide a physical element on the team. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Clifford adds that sandpaper element that can be a crucial factor in the playoffs, if Maple Leafs get out of the hole they’re in. An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, he’s in the final year of a $1.6 million contract (now at $800,000), where half of his salary is being retained. For a team that is in a major cap bind, any retention will help at this point. While he’s not known for being an offensive player, he is able to find the score sheet when possible, registering six goals and eight assists this season. 

Like Jake Muzzin, Clifford brings a winning pedigree, winning the Stanley Cup with the Kings twice in 2011-12 and 2013-14. While Clifford is the kind of player that appeals to the old-school fans, his underlying and analytic numbers show he is more than just a tough guy/role player who can be physical and be an intimidating factor on the ice.

In comparison to Moore, this tweet shows that Clifford tends to be a strong player in terms of driving puck possession. But the important factor is his ability to suppress shots in the defensive end. Lately, the Maple Leafs have been having a hard time breaking up a team’s offensive zone time and have been giving up quality chances. This has been an issue before the All-Star break and early on in the season as well.

While that is a valuable commodity, the expectation is that Clifford is going to be a guy to grind it out and get under the opposition’s skin. With Nazem Kadri gone, the Maple Leafs have no one to bring that kind of tenacity. While the team’s philosophy is built on speed and skill, having a player like Clifford is useful where no one will be getting pushed around. That mix of grit and ability to possess the puck is what makes him a great addition for Toronto.

In the end, if the Maple Leafs ever wanted to see the playoffs, this is a move that Dubas had to make. You can’t win on skill alone and Clifford adds a different element while being effective at maintaining puck possession and decreasing the amount of shots in his own end. And with the wing depth the team has, using Moore and mid-round picks to get help in two areas the Maple Leafs need help in, was a move that had to happen. If they want to make the playoffs, they need to use assets and shake things up. 

Defense Remains the Focus

While Dubas did an excellent job bringing in an improvement in the crease as well as a player with a physical edge, the main concern still lies on defense. With Morgan Rielly sidelined, the Maple Leafs shouldn’t stop there as there are a number of possible defenseman that could be acquired.

From Brenden Dillon to Josh Manson, the pursuit for another right-handed defenseman shouldn’t stop. They have the assets to part with in order to get the help on the back-end. It’s just a matter of finding the right player that fits the job description. 

Josh Manson Anaheim Ducks
Could Josh Manson be a target for the Maple Leafs? (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Overall, this is an excellent starting point for Dubas ahead of the trade deadline. Although it took longer than expected, if they wanted to have any success, they needed an improvement in the crease. Adding Campbell, as well as Clifford, gives the Maple Leafs more depth at two of the three positions. Now the focus shifts to the defense.

Statistics and numbers from Cap Friendly and HockeyDB.

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