For the first summer in quite a while, the Edmonton Oilers’ goaltending situation for the forthcoming NHL season isn’t causing great stress in Oil Country. Fans are feeling pretty good about their last line of defense right now, after the Oilers signed free-agent goalie Jack Campbell, formerly of the Toronto Maple Leafs, to a five-year, $25 million contract on July 13.
This is quite a contrast from the consternation of the last two offseasons when the lone move Oilers general manager Ken Holland made to address his team’s netminder needs was re-signing a past-his-prime Mike Smith.
After three seasons of Smith and Mikko Koskinen sharing duties in the crease, the Oilers look set to enter 2022-23 with Campbell as the starter backed up by promising 23-year-old Stuart Skinner. But should Edmonton be feeling so confident with Campbell?
The Positives & Negatives of Campbell
First off, there are plenty of positives with Campbell, who appeared in 49 games (47 starts) for the Leafs in 2021-22, going 31-9-6 with five shutouts. The Michigan native was the only goalie in the NHL last season to record at least five shutouts in less than 50 games, and one of only three with at least 30 wins in less than 50 starts.
But for the most part, Campbell’s stats – whether basic or advanced – are pretty average: Of the 31 NHL goalies who appeared in at least 40 games last season, Campbell ranked middle of the pack, tying for 13th in both goals against average (2.64) and save percentage (.914).
According to Money Puck’s goalie data for 2021-22, Campbell was in the negative when it came to expected goals and saves. He had a minus-0.049 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes, and a minus-0.001 save percentage above expected. His WAR (wins above replacement) was also in the red, minus-0.39, which ranked 21st among the 31 goalies that played at least 40 times.
Campbell Compared to Koskinen & Smith
So how do Campbell’s analytics stack up against the goalies he is replacing? They’re certainly better than those of Koskinen, who in 45 appearances last season registered a minus-0.155 goals saved above expected per 60, minus-0.003 save percentage above expected and a WAR of minus-1.14. Smith, however, ranked ahead of Campbell, with a 0.281 goals saved above expected per 60, 0.005 save percentage above expected, and a WAR of 1.23 over 28 games with Edmonton in 2021-22.
While these are not precise comparisons given the statistics come from playing with different teams, the Oilers and Maple Leafs of last season were very similar in roster composition and gameplay execution. Both played freewheeling run-and-gun hockey, featuring explosive offences powered by the game’s top superstars (the Maple Leafs scored 3.80 goals per game and had two players finish top 10 in the NHL points race; Edmonton averaged 3.48 goals and had two forwards finish in the top four in points), with not-always-reliable defences that were average on their best days (the Oilers allowed 3.06 goals per game, just a fraction better than Toronto’s 3.07 goals against average).
The teams had markedly similar advanced stats in 2021-22; respectively, the Leafs and Oilers ranked sixth and ninth in the NHL for Corsi (Toronto at 53.6%, Edmonton at 52.5%) and seventh and 10th in Fenwick (Toronto at 53.2%, Edmonton at 51.7%). Much like Toronto, Edmonton was also more likely to prevail in shootouts rather than pitchers’ duels.
Campbell Hasn’t Won in the Postseason
If there are red flags around Campbell, the biggest is perhaps his track record in the playoffs. Keep in mind that the 6-foot-3 netminder is being brought into Edmonton so that the Oilers can get to a place they could not reach with his predecessors: the Stanley Cup.
Does it not then raise an eyebrow that while Smith helped the Oilers get to the 2022 Western Conference Final, the Maple Leafs were upset in the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two springs with Campbell as their starting goalie?
In Toronto’s seven-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 2021, Campbell was very good, with a tidy 1.81 goals against average (GAA) and .934 save percentage (SV%). He was much less sharp this past spring, posting a 3.15 GAA and .897 SV% as Toronto was defeated 4-3 by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
By no means are the Leafs’ postseason shortcomings laid entirely at the feet of Campbell. But if he’s not to blame, it must also be said he wasn’t able to elevate his team to the next level. The cold facts are that he has never been part of a team that has won a playoff round, let alone be the goalie of record in a series-clincher. Now he goes from one fishbowl of a Canadian market with huge expectations to another, where he’s being asked to backstop the Oilers through four rounds of postseason hockey.
Duo of Campbell & Skinner Could Work
The Campbell contract is a gamble for Edmonton. At age 30, he has only just established himself as a starter during last season and has all of 135 games of NHL experience. Maybe he’s a late bloomer that hasn’t realized his potential yet. Maybe he’s had it in him all along and just needed the chance to show it. Or maybe he merely caught lightning in a bottle in 2021-22. Maybe there’s a reason that he was a career backup until last year.
But even if that proves to be the case, Oil Country can still find hope in the form of Skinner. The Edmonton native, who will turn 24 in November, has played only 14 NHL games, going 7-6-0 with a 2.80 GAA and .909 SV%, but has shown signs that he could be a future No. 1 at hockey’s highest level. In fact, he might already be ready for that role, it’s just a matter of getting an opportunity, which could present itself if Campbell falters.
Or perhaps between the two netminders, the Oilers find magic: a tandem that is greater than the sum of its parts, and one capable of taking Edmonton to heights that the duo of Koskinen and Smith couldn’t quite reach.
This could go any number of directions, which makes the Oilers an even more fascinating team to watch in 2022-23. Of course, Edmonton fans would much prefer the boredom of stability in net, as opposed to the intrigue of more drama. And maybe that’s exactly how things turn out. Maybe, those raising doubt about Campbell just don’t know Jack.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.