Maple Leafs’ Jack Campbell: A Viable Postseason Goalie Option – Finally

Can Jack Campbell be a factor during the Toronto Maple Leafs postseason? Here’s hoping that won’t be necessary. Still, for the first time in several seasons, the Maple Leafs are entering postseason play with some confidence they have a goalie that delivers when and if he’s called upon to do so.

Is Head Coach Sheldon Keefe Worried?

In life, sometimes people tell the truth, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, I’m not sure people honestly know what the truth is. So when I read a headline that head coach Sheldon Keefe isn’t worried about Frederik Andersen’s propensity to let in goals during the team’s training camp, I sort of think Keefe really doesn’t know what he believes. That just seems human. (from “Keefe not worried that pucks regularly getting past Andersen in Leafs scrimmages,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 19/07/20).

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First, part of Keefe’s job as head coach is to worry. The second part of that same job is to be closed-mouthed about those worries. Obviously, the Toronto Sun’s headline was the answer to a question asked by the media during an interview. Keefe wouldn’t offer that statement out of the blue without being asked. As in, “Oh by the way, if you haven’t noticed, Andersen’s been letting in a lot of goals during training camp. But, I’m not worried.” The media are noticing and thus have asked the question.

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There’s a history to that concern. Andersen’s notoriously slow starts have been a topic that many hockey writers have pounced on even prior to training camp – with good reason. If you look at the four seasons Andersen’s been with the team, he’s been almost nothing but consistent. His save percentage averaged .918 during his first three seasons with the team. This season it was lower, but it’s also easy to see he played behind a rag-tag and injured defensive unit.

But, when Andersen’s on his game, he’s one of the best goalies in the NHL. Still, when I said “almost nothing” earlier, I’m pointing straight to his numbers at the beginning of seasons. His numbers out of the gate are considerably weaker. During Andersen’s four Octobers with the team, he’s only recorded a .900 save percentage.

Frederik Andersen Toronto Maple Leafs
Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Here’s the rub. By the time the Maple Leafs start the play-in round, they’ll have been off for four months, which is the length of a regular offseason.

This means that, simply by doing the numbers, if the average number of shots during a game is 33 (in actuality the Columbus Blue Jackets averaged 32.5 shots over the 2019-20 season and the Maple Leafs averaged 32.9) over three games Andersen will face around 100 shots. If his save percentage is .900, he will let in two more goals over three games than if it’s .920. Clearly, during the postseason, that’s could be a big deal.

Enter Backup Goalie Jack Campbell

Here’s where the Maple Leafs stand. So far during the team’s training camp, Andersen hasn’t inspired tremendous confidence and carries a track record of being slow out of the gate.

What makes this season different? The answer is that the Maple Leafs have a legitimate backup goalie in Campbell. If needed, Campbell might become a factor in a short play-in series or even further during the playoffs.

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The common wisdom is that the Maple Leafs will go as far this postseason as Andersen carries them. I agree. If Andersen can’t play well during this postseason, the Maple Leafs have a consideration to make after the 2020-21 season. But I can’t see the Maple Leafs bailing on the goalie who’s consistently been in the top 10 of all goalies during his last four seasons and who was a member of the NHL All-Star game this season.

Still, should they need him, Campbell has shown during the regular season that he could be a reliable alternative if Andersen slumps. After coming to the Maple Leafs with rugged winger Kyle Clifford in a trade early February, Campbell played six games. In those games, he had a 3-2-1 record with a goals-against-average of 2.63 and a save percentage of .915.

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That’s a promising start to Campbell’s Maple Leafs career. And in a series where things can go south pretty quickly, it could be demoralizing for a team to lose a game to poor goalie play. It would also be a loss and three of those means you’re out. There’s not much wiggle room.

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Campbell is perhaps the Maple Leafs best backup goalie in recent memory. He certainly inspires more confidence than Garret Sparks, Michael Hutchinson, or Kasimir Kaskisuo did over the past few seasons. Partnered with Andersen, Campbell gives the Maple Leafs the best goaltending duo the team’s had going into the playoffs in a long time.

Which Andersen Will Show Up During the Postseason?

The question is, which Andersen will show up in the Maple Leafs goal? Will it be a goaltender who’s playing at the peak of his game? Or will it be the Andersen who struggles when the season opens?

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And if he struggles, will the Maple Leafs swap goalies and give Campbell an opportunity? For the first time in several seasons, at least it seems there’s that option.