Like my THW colleagues, I’m coming to believe that Jack Campbell might have played his last game for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In addition to being both a solid goalie and someone who seems like a genuinely great person, Campbell is also such an interesting character.
Campbell has a great story. He was a world-class young goalie, who lost both his confidence and seemingly his career. However, through hard work and lots of encouragement, he found his way again – both in his personal life and in hockey.
Maple Leafs Fans Love Campbell, And Why Not?
Since he’s come to the Maple Leafs he’s done everything anyone has asked. He sat as the backup and encouraged Frederik Andersen. Then, when he got his chance he ran with it, setting an NHL record last season for consecutive wins to start a season. He played injured; he took the blame for everyone else’s mistakes (and his own); and, in all ways Campbell, he became a great teammate. The truth is we all love him; he’s hard to resist.
In fact, we’ve all as Maple Leafs’ fans adopted him as our own. So much so that we talk about a hometown discount when it comes to his choices about staying with the team or leaving. But Toronto isn’t his home; and, in fact, he’s from Port Huron, Michigan, only an hour away from Detroit.
And there in Detroit sits general manager Steve Yzerman. You think Yzerman doesn’t covet Campbell. I would if I were him. Campbell’s a perfect goalie for a rebuild.
Campbell’s Two Seasons as a Maple Leafs Starting Goalie
The truth is that the Maple Leafs are in tough with Campbell. After acquiring Campbell in February of 2020 in a deal that also brought Kyle Clifford from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Trevor Moore and two third-round picks, Campbell went on to finish the 2019-20 season with a 3-2-1 record, a 0.915 save percentage, and a 2.63 goals-against average, playing the backup role behind starter Andersen.
Related: Stan Mikita: A True Chicago Legend
In the 2020-21 season, as noted above, Campbell set a new NHL record by winning his first 11 starts that season. He then went on to claim the starting role over an injured and struggling Andersen. He finished that season with a 17-3-2 record, a 0.921 save percentage, and a 2.14 goals-against average. During the postseason, Campbell followed those numbers up with a save percentage of 0.934% and a goals-against-average of 1.81 in the Maple Leafs’ seven-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
After starting the 2021-22 season like a house on fire, and being named to the 2022 All-Star game roster, Campbell struggled badly, partially due to injuries for most of the last half of the season. He rediscovered his form late in the season, to finish with a 31-9-6 record, a 0.914 save percentage, and a 2.64 goals-against average. His numbers in the seven-game loss in the first round of the playoffs to the Tampa Bay Lightning were a pedestrian 0.897 save percentage and a 3.15 goals-against average.
Campbell Needs a New Contract – Somewhere
Now Campbell’s due a new contract. After failing in a rumored attempt to extend him in the last offseason, the Maple Leafs have reopened contract discussions on a new deal. According to Elliotte Friedman, those negotiations are not going well. Friedman recently stated, “My guess would be that Campbell is looking for something in the 4-5/season range, or almost double what the Leafs initially offered.”
The reasons for the chasm between what the Maple Leafs are willing to pay and what Campbell’s camp feels he’s worth are numerous. And really, you can’t go through the life story that Campbell’s experienced without being driven and committed. He’s survived and prospered; and, of course he’ll listen to another team’s offers.
Considering Both Sides’ Points of View
From the Maple Leafs’ perspective, they’re looking at a player who’s played well overall but has done it for a relatively short period of time. In the seven years since Campbell played his first NHL game, he’s only played 135 regular-season games and 14 playoff games. On top of that, he’s 30 years old and has had a history of injuries. The Maple Leafs absolutely must be logical; they’re at a different stage than a rebuilding team with more salary-cap space.
From Campbell’s perspective, he feels he’s proven in his last two seasons with the Maple Leafs that he can play in the NHL and be a starter. At the age of 30, this might be his one chance to get a big payday. To this point in his career, Campbell’s earned just over $5 million total. He now, as an unrestricted free agent, has a potential opportunity to make that much money per season over a number of seasons. In addition, it’s about status and pride.
Really, Why Wouldn’t Campbell Say Good-bye?
As an American-born player, with no ties to the Maple Leafs or the Toronto area, why wouldn’t Campbell at least explore the free-agent market? Why wouldn’t he see if he couldn’t maximize his earning potential? He believe he will listen.
Campbell clearly loves playing in Toronto, a city that has embraced the extremely affable goalie. But that’s also a point. Given his personality, he’ll probably love playing anywhere. If he moves, he’ll probably be adopted as quickly there as we took to him as Maple Leafs’ fans.
Campbell has also stated that he’d be leaving the negotiations up to his agent. Maple Leafs’ fans should know what that means, after rounds with both William Nylander and Mitch Marner.
Campbell Can Love Playing in Toronto, But Still Move
Our overall impression of the way things ended this season, including Campbell’s exit interview is that, while Campbell said all the right things and all the things we’d expect to hear from a player who’s happy with his present situation, he’ll be testing the free-agent waters. Loving Toronto and moving on are not mutually exclusive stances.
If Campbell does listen, there might well be another NHL general manager who’s willing to risk paying $5 million a season for four or five seasons for Campbell’s services. If there is, we wish Campbell all the best. That amount of money is more than the Maple Leafs can afford to gamble.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf