Call me a glass-half-full kind of hockey fan. I just can’t help thinking that all of the negativity surrounding Edmonton Oilers goaltender Jack Campbell in the last 48 hours is an emotional overreaction to a bad game. True, he didn’t play well against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday (Dec. 1) when the Oilers lost 5-3, but I feel like it’s been completely blown out of proportion by media as well as fans on radio call-in shows and social media. My sense is that the Oilers management team led by general manager Ken Holland and head coach Jay Woodcroft should remain patient at least until the New Year with the much-criticized Campbell.
I sensed that Campbell’s game had slowly been improving as of late. I also feel that you could’ve had Georges Vezina, Bernie Parent, Grant Fuhr, Martin Brodeur, or even future Hall of Famer Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay Lightning in net for the Oilers that night and the team still would’ve lost. Why? Because it’s a TEAM game. Sometimes teams run out of gas physically and emotionally like the Oilers did against the Wild.
It’s Easy to Criticize Campbell Who Hasn’t Lived Up to Expectations
What people tend to forget about Campbell and the Oilers is that the team was coming off of a spirited, exhausting 5-4 win against the Chicago Blackhawks the night before, and had to turn around and play the Wild with less than 24 hours of rest. Too bad they’re highly-paid professional athletes right? They shouldn’t use fatigue as an excuse, especially Campbell who was well-rested. How come he didn’t steal the game for the Oilers against the Wild? He had played well in his last start in the Oilers’ come-from-behind 4-3 victory against the New York Rangers on Nov. 26.
Latest News & Highlights
Maybe it’s because it’s a team game and the Oilers weren’t exactly playing like world-beaters in front of Campbell. Despite a challenging travel schedule in late November and early December for the Oilers, it would’ve been nice for Campbell to come up with a few more big saves at key times. Fans and the Oilers brass are also hoping he could steal a game – which he really hasn’t done yet this season.
Despite a Tough Start to His Oilers Career, Campbell Still Has a Winning Record
As the NHL schedule turns to the second week of December, Campbell sits in the top 25 among NHL goalies for wins with a 7-6 record. Not bad. But not great for a guy earning $5 million a year who also sits near the bottom of the league in terms of save percentage and goals against average. If he can’t turn his game around by mid-to-late January, then the Oilers do have a legitimate problem on their hands. It just feels like it’s too early in the season to completely crucify him.
There are some recent examples of goaltenders who started slow, then caught fire in the second half and led their teams to the playoffs. Take Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues, for example. Early last season it looked as though his career might be over, but he flipped the switch and came on strong in the second half. He led the Blues to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs where they lost to the eventual Stanley Champions, Colorado Avalanche in six games. If you recall, he was playing well until Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri knocked him out of the series in the Blues’ Game 3 loss (from ‘Thomas: Binnington leaves injured, Avs take series lead with 5-2 win’, St. Louis Post Dispatch, 5/21/22). If Binnington can do it, why can’t Campbell?
Oilers Brass Will Most Likely Remain Patient
Former goaltender Holland has a history of being patient. Look at last season when fans and pundits were demanding changes to the Oilers’ goaltending. It didn’t turn out that bad in the end for them with Mike Smith, Mikko Koskinen, and Stuart Skinner in net.
That’s why Holland will most likely sit tight for a bit longer. He doesn’t really have any other choice. Sure, he could put Campbell on waivers similar to what the LA Kings did with their struggling goaltender Cal Peterson. If he were to clear waivers, he would immediately be reassigned to the Oilers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Bakersfield. However, all of this might do more harm than good to his psyche.
Much of the negativity surrounding the goaltending could all die down in a couple weeks if the Oilers get some rest from a demanding travel schedule, and start playing better in front of both Skinner and Campbell. If the wins continue to come for Campbell, that’s not a bad thing. Although it won’t appease the harshest hockey critics who are looking for perfection. Take Oilers Hall of Fame goaltender Fuhr for example. In 2022 he is still being called out for his career save percentage stats despite winning five Stanley Cups and two Canada Cups and earning a reputation as a clutch goaltender.
Time will tell whether Campbell can completely transform his game. If he’s stinking the joint up in January and February, then the Oilers will have no choice but to look at other alternatives. In the meantime, Skinner continues to play well and his future is looking brighter all the time. So all is not lost for the Oilers on the goaltending front yet. At least for this week anyway.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.