TORONTO – In hindsight — that beautiful prism through which we gaze on the past — it was prophetic how adamant Jack Campbell was about the three-goal mark.
When we caught up with the Stars-turned-Kings-turned–Maple Leafs goaltender earlier this season, Campbell repeatedly expressed how and why he needed to limit shooters to fewer than three goals every night he took the crease for Los Angeles.
“I just hold myself to a high standard,” said Campbell, dripping of sweat and still catching his breath from another intense on-ice workout. “So, obviously, giving up three doesn’t really get it done for me or for the team. So, I’m just working hard.
“Individually, I’ll get it going here, where three is not acceptable.”
Well, the goal posts have just moved.
Three goals allowed actually can get the job done most nights in Toronto, where run support flows like William Nylander’s hair on a zone entry.
The rebuilding L.A. Kings — who dealt Campbell and gritty rental winger Kyle Clifford to the Leafs late Wednesday for California native Trevor Moore and two third-round draft picks — only score 2.49 goals per game, forcing their netminders to make up for the second-worst offence in the NHL.
The Maple Leafs, however, seemingly light the lamp whenever the mood strikes Auston Matthews. Since Toronto averages 3.57 goals per game (fourth overall), if Campbell can keep the opposition to three or less, he’ll win more often than he loses in this town.
That’s something no backup since Curtis McElhinney has been able to say.
The three-goal benchmark, frankly, is something Campbell’s predecessor as Frederik Andersen’s No. 2 proved unable to keep shooters from breaking.
In eight of his 11 starts this season, Michael Hutchinson (.886 save percentage) surrendered a minimum of four goals, the latest being another blown-lead loss in New York on Wednesday, the final nail in the coffin.
Campbell’s numbers (.900 save percentage this season; .918 on his career) aren’t exactly spectacular, but the 28-year-old has been plying his trade for a franchise that is tumbling down the same mountain the Leafs are trying to scale.
A highly touted prospect that Leafs GM Kyle Dubas actually traded for when both men were with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds nine years ago, Campbell was drafted 11th overall in 2010 by Dallas.
Yet his development in the Stars’ system was hardly a smooth ride, and he ended up playing way more games in the ECHL (27 with the Idaho Steelheads) than the NHL (one) before his June 2016 trade to the Kings.
“I remember when I first got traded [from Dallas], it was an eye-opener and how hard these guys work in L.A. I saw that and tried to build on it,” Campbell said.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience. Last year I felt really good, and this year I feel like my game’s in the same place.”
Campbell let out a self-reflexive chuckle when asked if he’s hard on himself.
“Yeah. That’s part of the struggle I had earlier in my career: I wasn’t able to let it go back in Dallas, and it kinda hurt me. So now I’m still holding myself to the same standard, but I don’t lose as much sleep over it,” he explained.
Credit two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick with an assist, for taking Campbell under his wing and offering quiet encouragement.
When Quick missed significant time to injury last season, he would fire Campbell texts of support between starts. The two goalies talk about everything, and Campbell believes the Conn Smythe winner has been as instrumental in improving his mental approach to the position as well as his technical approach.
“We have a great relationship. We’re more than just teammates; we’re pretty good buddies off the ice. He’s always giving me pointers, and he helps a lot,” Campbell said.
“I [had] a good one here to learn from — a great one, actually. I mean, Quickie’s as competitive as it gets, but he’s able to be nice and show up the next day or whatnot. So, I’m definitely blessed to learn from a guy like Jonathan Quick.
“We talk about everything. But I don’t even have to talk to him to learn. I get some things just from watching him, so it’s just such a bonus to have him. It’s been great.”
Andersen, too, has a reputation for supporting his supporting cast, inviting Hutchinson to golf and opening the line of communication between the tandem well before training camp.
Ironically, Campbell is signed on to be a Leaf for longer than Andersen, whose deal expires in June of 2021.
The newest Leaf will take the thinnest of slices from the cap pie ($675,000) this season and see his wage raise to $1.65 million for 2020-21 and 2021-22.
The trade for a goaltender with term fulfills Dubas’s requirement to have a goalie under contract that he can expose in 2021 Seattle expansion draft and buys Toronto time to groom its own prized (but too green) goaltending prospects, Joseph Woll and Ian Scott.
Like Clifford, Campbell is not only an immediate upgrade in an area of need, but he comes with a blue-collar reputation, as teammates vouch for his character.
“He’s been awesome for us, man. He’s the hardest-working guy on our team. When he succeeds, we couldn’t be more happy for him,” Drew Doughty said, prior to the Leafs trade.
“Just watch him in practice. He battles for every single puck. He could be 10 feet outside the net and he’s diving across trying to make that save. He works his bag off. He’s in the gym all the time trying to make his legs stronger so he’s moving quicker. He’s just a hard worker.”
Sounds like music to Leafs Nation’s ears.