On the first day of free agency in July, Jack Campbell struck it rich.
The 30-year-old journeyman had rehabilitated his career over parts of three seasons with the Maple Leafs, and he was a hot commodity. The goalie-needy Oilers signed Campbell to a five-year, $25-million contract and were confident that they had solved their biggest problem.
Campbell has described his performance this season as “pathetic” — words he used after allowing six goals in a loss to the Dallas Stars on Nov. 5. Five days later, he gave up a career-high seven goals to the Hurricanes.
“I owe it to this team to bring my ‘A’ game, and they haven’t seen it yet,” Campbell told reporters recently. “I’m going to get through this. … The boys deserve it, and I can’t wait to show them.”
So far, all Campbell has shown is an inability to stop the puck. Over his first 10 starts, Campbell has allowed around 11 more goals than expected in all situations, the worst mark in the NHL.
Although the Leafs were a better defensive team last season (2.65 xGA per 60 minutes) than the Oilers have been in the first month of this season (2.91 per 60), Campbell’s struggles are not entirely the result of poor play in front of him.
One area where Campbell has declined year over year is rebound control. Opponents have averaged around two rebound shots on net per 60 against Campbell this season, up from 1.4 per 60 a season ago. That might not seem like much, but it can add up over time. Case in point: Campbell has given up a league-worst eight second-chance goals in 10 games, half as many as he did in 49 games last season.
It is easy to forget that Campbell represented the Leafs at the All-Star Game last season, sporting a 21-6-3 record and generating Vezina Trophy buzz in the first half. But his drop-off in play during the second half should have set off alarm bells.
Strong play from backup goalie Stuart Skinner has made things interesting in Edmonton. The 24-year-old rookie has a .932 save percentage in seven appearances this season, including a 40-save performance in a win against the high-powered Panthers on Saturday. Skinner stopped six of the Panthers’ seven inner-slot shots.
“I think he’s one of the stories of our young season, when you look at people who maybe are outperforming expectations,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft told reporters after the game. “In terms of individuals, Stuart would be right at the top of that list.”
Woodcroft has tried to quash talk of a goalie controversy, but Campbell’s unreliability has only fueled that fire.
It was risky for the Oilers to make a long-term commitment to an older goalie with one full season of starting experience. The signing of Campbell could turn out to be a cautionary tale.