With training camp just days away, the reality is setting in for the Toronto Maple Leafs. For the first time in five years, Frederik Andersen is not in attendance after signing with the Carolina Hurricanes in the offseason. The Great Dane was the starter for most of that half-decade of service to the organization, allowing the front office to improve other roster areas. Now, one of the biggest questions surrounding this team heading into the 2021-22 season is in the net.
The Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek combination is hardly an intimidating duo in the crease – yet. Both netminders dealt with injures last season, giving a small sample size. In fact, until last season, Campbell had never been a full-time starter in the pros. On the flip side, Mrazek’s health may be an issue after many years as a workhorse with the Detroit Red Wings and later with the Carolina Hurricanes. Adding to the dilemma, Toronto doesn’t have much in the system that appears ready for the NHL.
Jack Campbell Earned the Starting Job
Let’s get this out of the way, yes Jack Campbell is the most excellent man on the planet, and I wish him all the success in the world. So, it is difficult to write anything negative about him. Make no mistake, the world needs more Jack Campbells. However, his magical 2020-21 season has a few caveats. He was drafted in 2010 and it took a decade to work his way the depth chart. He finally got the starting job when Andersen was mercifully put on the injured list. Despite Andersen’s horrific numbers, the Maple Leafs were still playing him in front of Campbell.
Campbell battled through his own injuries. When he was the number one, fans held their collective breath every time he went down to make a save. A knee injury is difficult for anyone but ten times worse for a goalie. He had a long offseason to strengthen that knee and anything else that may have been hampering him. He will need it because this is a full 82-game schedule, a gruelling pace that will test his durability and resilience.
Then there is the mental aspect to the game. After every loss, Campbell beat himself up, including the last defeat in Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens. Kyle Dubas was asked about his goalies’ mental toughness during a recent appearance on the Bob McCown Podcast. “I have known Jack Campbell for 10 years,” answered the general manager. “He was on our team in the Soo 10 years ago, and I knew him three or four years before that. That is him. Every loss he is going to take hard and put it on himself… If I was worried that it affected him day to day — the way he took the losses — and that it was going to roll over into the next game, I would have more concern, but I don’t with him.”
Campbell’s Mental Toughness in Question
However, Dubas did give some insight into the work taking place off the ice with the presumed starting goalie. “We have had a number of conversations over the last year, especially about his demeanour, especially as he started carrying the ball last year, and how that impacts the team. If the starting goaltender is really down himself — especially when things really aren’t his fault — it can impact the team.”
Dubas explained that it’s a work in progress, “it is trying to get his mindset to transform from more of an “I am going to take everything on myself and blame everything on myself,” to, “I know where I am at. I am attempting to assert myself again as a starting goaltender over a full 82-game season. I have to carry myself in a bit of a different way while still being the person that got me to this point.”
Hurricanes Picked Andersen over Mrazek
From one question mark to another, Petr Mrazek only appeared in a dozen games last season before a thumb injury kept him sidelined. Then, he got into two playoff games for his old team, the Carolina Hurricanes. However, his last appearance was a forgettable performance. Carolina held a two-goal lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning midway through the second period but lost 6-4. Mrazek gave up six goals on 26 shots. After the game, Canes’ head coach Rob Brind’Amour admitted he did consider pulling Mrazek.
There is another red flag, Carolina was a team that fell two points short of winning the President’s Trophy with an impressive 36-12-8 record in 2020-21. However, the team elected to pay more money to sign Andersen (two years, $9 million) and let Mrazek walk. So Mrazek was with Carolina for three seasons, yet they saw more potential in Andersen.
There is not much in the system if the new duo doesn’t deliver or an injury pops up. Michael Hutchinson is likely the number three goalie. But, the team showed such little faith in him last season that they traded a third-round pick to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline for David Rittich.
Yes, the days of not questioning the crease in Toronto are long gone. There are doubts heading into this season, and next season could offer a lot of challenges too. Campbell becomes a free agent; he is currently making $1.65 million. If he is the true starter everyone hopes he is, he will get paid a lot more than Toronto can offer. But that’s a messy situation for next year.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.