He’s maybe one of the biggest question marks for the Toronto Maple Leafs when it comes to free agency this summer. Jack Campbell has arguably been the most valuable player for the Maple Leafs this season – an argument can be made for Auston Matthews as well – but his play as of late has made some question his worth when it comes to signing his next contract.
While he’s sold the majority of Leafs Nation on the fact that he can be a legitimate NHL starter over the past season and a half, others around the hockey world will still argue that his shaky numbers over the past couple of games are telling of how fragile Campbell will be for the Maple Leafs moving forward.
Maple Leafs’ Campbell Earning His Role
Since coming in for the injured Frederik Andersen in 2020-21, Campbell has stepped into the role of starter quite admirably. He’s stolen games for the team at times which hasn’t always been the case with Maple Leafs’ goaltending. He’s faced the tough Toronto media following big losses and he’s exceeded expectations – even this year alone with the injuries to Petr Mrazek.
Sure, Campbell was a late bloomer after being taking 11th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2010. However, he didn’t really get a fair shake in the NHL until 2018-19 with the Kings when he played 31 games and finished with a 10-14-1 record in 31 games. Even with the win-loss record where it was, Campbell’s numbers overall weren’t horrible – with a 2.30 goals against average (GAA) and .928 save percentage (SV%).
What’s most noteworthy though is his time in Toronto. He came over in 2019-20 as a 28-year-old and since then he’s worked his way into becoming one of the top goaltenders in the league – at least statistically speaking.
In 56 regular season games with the Maple Leafs, Campbell has a 39-10-6 record, a .926 SV% and a 2.19 GAA with six shutouts. He’s become one of the more important pieces on the Maple Leafs roster and has experienced both great success and great loss with this core – including a strong regular season in 2020-21 and the seven-game series loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round that same season.
In fact, over the past two seasons, Campbell is second to only Jeremy Swayman for GAA with 2.14 over 50 regular season games played. He also sits second to only Igor Shesterkin this season in goals saved above average at 17.87.
Now, named to the NHL’s Atlantic Division all-star team, his place as the Maple Leafs starter has been legitimized. So why even question what he deserves on his next contract?
Maple Leafs’ Campbell’s Recent Struggles Not Concerning
Following a New Year’s Day shutout against the lowly Ottawa Senators, Campbell’s past four games have raised some questions – even though the 30-year-old has won three of those four with the loss coming in overtime.
What’s looked off is his attention to detail in the net. Now, that’s not saying that the goals against are entirely his fault. In fact, against Colorado he made some big saves. He didn’t have much help at times. Still his numbers are much more average than his season totals.
Against Edmonton, Colorado, Vegas and St. Louis in those four games, Campbell has gone 3-0-1 with a 3.67 GAA and giving up 15 goals over those four games. His save percentage has dipped over those four games to .891 and, as mentioned, his control of play hasn’t been to the same standard as it has for the majority of his tenure in Toronto.
But how much of that has to do with fatigue?
Of the team’s 36 games, Campbell has played in 28 of them so far this season. In fact, if things continue down the path they are headed for the Maple Leafs, Campbell is on pace to play 63 games for them during the regular season. That would more than double his career-high of 31 games played back in 2018-19 with the Kings.
Fatigue can play a role in how a goaltender performs. We’ve seen it hamper Frederik Andersen during his time with the Maple Leafs after playing 132 games over two seasons, followed by another 60-game season.
Ideally, yes, you’d have your starter hit that 60-game mark and count on the back-up to pick up the other 22 with average to decent performances. But this is a first for Campbell and the expectation can’t be the same as a 30-year-old veteran in the league that has play 50 to 60 games every year they’ve been in the league.
On top of that the team has been decimated in front of him. Some players missing time due to COVID protocol, with others like Jake Muzzin missing time due to injuries. Regardless, the Maple Leafs haven’t been at full health in a number of weeks. That hurts an already overworked Campbell when it comes to his overall numbers.
Excuses aside, the past few games should be anything to worry about for Maple Leafs fans. In fact, look at it as a simply bump in the road for the club and their netminder.
Looking at Campbell’s Next Contract
It’s been one of the hot topics in Toronto since the start of the season. What will the Maple Leafs do with Jack Campbell?
I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t offer him a significant pay raise on his $1.8 million that he’s making this season (his cap hit is actually $1.65 million for the Maple Leafs). Considering the class of free agent goaltenders and based on the numbers he’s put up so far, it’s safe to think that the Maple Leafs’ top target would be, well, Campbell.
Now the big question isn’t so much will he stay, rather what will it cost to have him stay in Toronto. After all, the Maple Leafs might be one of the worst for cap situations in the NHL, but locking down the starting role will be their biggest need this offseason. And frankly, they should do whatever it takes to make sure they have the piece they need.
Based on his numbers, it wouldn’t be out of the question to sign Campbell at an annual average value (AAV) of $4.5 to $5 million. Now, this brings up an issue that is two-fold.
For starters, the Maple Leafs don’t have a lot of wiggle room with the cap. Ilya Mikheyev, Jason Spezza and Kyle Clifford all come off the books, while Ondrej Kaše, Pierre Engvall, Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin are all RFAs that need new contracts. To open a little bit of space, the Maple Leafs would have to move on from Mikheyev or move another piece like Alex Kerfoot, Travis Dermott or Justin Holl.
Dermott or Holl would be the obvious choices, but that still wouldn’t be enough to get Campbell signed. Secondly, how long would be the ideal contract. I keep going back to three years, which would take Campbell to 33, but would the Maple Leafs have money in place to sign their big free agents in the coming years?
The point is, Campbell will likely be deserving of a contract in the range of $4 million to $5 million and will want to be locked in for at least a few years. And a contract like that for him after what he’s done the past couple of seasons isn’t really out of the question.
As for the subpar play as of late, it’s a product of his environment. Having played nearly 78 percent of the team’s games this season, there’s no question he’s going to stumble from time to time. Consider this a small hurdle in the road, but nothing that should affect his upcoming contract negotiations.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.