Quick Shifts: Why Jack Campbell holds all leverage with Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell speaks to the media after being eliminated in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs during a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (CP)

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. If my brother ever goes deep in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I’m going full Brady too.

1. Jack Campbell turned himself into one of just a dozen 30-win NHL goaltenders this past season.

When goalies of that ilk — regardless how many playoff series they’ve won — become unrestricted free agents in a landscape where there aren’t 32 of those to spread around, they get paid.

Were the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender to open the doors to all suitors, based on comparables and his free-agent competition, the AAV on his next multi-year contract should begin with a five.

Last summer, when Frederik Andersen walked, GM Kyle Dubas said finding a new goaltending partner for Campbell was top priority.

Asked Tuesday how great an emphasis he’d place on locking up Campbell, Dubas undersold if not undercut. He lumped his starting goalie in with his impending UFA depth defencemen and wingers.

“I think I would put Jack in the same grouping in terms of him, Ilya Mikheyev, Mark Giordano, Ondrej Kase (actually an RFA) and Ilya Lybushkin that are unrestricted free agents. We will sit down as a group here in the coming days and weeks,” Dubas replied.

“(Assistant GM) Brandon Pridham will get to work in speaking to their representatives and get an idea of what the expectations are. We will begin to look at the marketplace and then make our decisions from there.”

In other words, there is no guarantee Campbell returns — historic and emotional binds be damned.

The Dubas-Campbell relationship dates back to their Sault Ste. Marie days. The trade to Toronto gave the 2010 first-rounder his long-awaited opportunity to seize a No. 1 role. He went to an All-Star Game. At the morning skate ahead of Game 7, his adoring Leafs teammates chanted “Soooooup!” in their heartiest baritone when he made impressive saves in practice.

Find the money, and Campbell would certainly instruct his agent, the hard-driving Kurt Overhardt, to re-up.

“Winning here means everything to me,” said Campbell, cleaning out his locker Tuesday. “I love the city of Toronto, I love the fans, the support. My teammates are absolutely incredible, the coaching staff, really everything.

“I absolutely love being a Leaf.”

Sweet.

Would you take a little less than market value to remain one?

“As far as me loving the city and doing everything I can to stay here,” Campbell replied, “that’s up to Kurt and Kyle to discuss.”

There is no shortage of goalie-starved clubs with cap space that could make a pitch for Campbell. Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey and Chicago, to name a few.

The goalie can say he’s leaving it in his agent’s hands all he wants, but this will be Campbell’s call.

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2. I was asked on-air if Campbell’s future is tied to the fate of Petr Mrazek and thus Dubas’s ability to correct another mistake contract, something the executive was able to do efficiently when his flyer on Nick Ritchie didn’t pan out.

I don’t believe so.

Regardless of where Campbell gets his payday, the Leafs must clear the final two seasons of Mrazek’s $3.8 million AAV off the books, either via buyout or lumping him into a trade package — with a sweetener.

The Leafs need that cap space to invest in a true No. 1 goalie and will need to eat a little crow to do so.

What makes a trade more complicated: Mrazek’s money is backloaded. His actual salary is $4.2 million in 2022-23 and $4.4 million in 2023-24.

After three groin injuries in one winter, who wants to sign on for that bill?

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3. Looming like a spectre over Toronto’s 2022-23 season will be Auston Matthews’ July 1 decision. The MVP can sign an extension that will likely be the richest in the sport.

There is no doubt both Dubas and president Brendan Shanahan (if still in their seats next summer) won’t hesitate to hand Matthews the keys to the vault.

“He has a lot of runway left. We love having him,” Shanahan said. “We would love to make him a Leaf forever.

“He has been very supportive. He has really sort of grown into a leadership role here. He has made an immediate impact as a young player and a rookie, but he has grown into a man. He has been fantastic for us in every aspect: on the ice, off the ice, in the dressing room.”

Dubas is aware that Matthews’ no-move clause kicks in for 2023-24, meaning he could have the option to ride out the final months of his deal and walk out the door for nothing.

The Leafs need to be certain he’s staying. Matthews needs to believe in the Leafs can win.

Look no further than John Tavares’s departure from Long Island to see how ugly these scenarios turn when a superstar jets in his prime with zero return.

“I certainly do not view it as a doomsday clock,” Dubas said. “We are fortunate to have one of the best players in hockey under contract for two more years. Beyond that, he is a great player that we would like to see play his whole career with Toronto. He wants to win more than anybody. He is on board with that in every discussion we have with him.”

Dubas was asked if he must prove to Matthews that the group can thrive in the playoffs.

“That is a question for Auston more than it is for me in terms of what he and his representatives are looking for in a team,” Dubas replied.

“In my conversations with him, he believes we are close. He has said that to everybody here. He is going to be a big part of helping us get here as he continues to grow and evolve.”

Matthews downplayed their severity, but he was dealing with minor knee and groin injuries down the stretch that kept him out of a few games in late April.

4. The best thing about William Nylander trade speculation is that no one cares less about the rumours than the man himself.

“My summer will be the same,” Nylander said, grinning. “That’s all I’ve heard since I’ve been here.”

The winger believes the Leafs have made strides and is not taking the latest Game 7 disappointment lightly.

“As bad as everyone else wants it, we want it more,” Nylander said.

“I can’t really explain to you how it feels. It’s really tough to feel that way. I’m still feeling the same way. You don’t really want to do anything. It’s just rattling. It’s gonna take some time to get over this one.”

Good to see Nylander jumping back into action and repping Team Sweden as a late addition to the world championships.

5. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals — once perennial playoff monsters —have each lost four consecutive postseason series.

Nicklas Backstrom tried playing hurt. Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang could be headed to market.

All great reigns must come to an end.

6. Bruins president Cam Neely told reporters that he’s begun working on an extension for GM Don Sweeney.

On the fate of head coach Bruce Cassidy — coming off his sixth playoff appearance behind the bench — Neely was less definitive.

In lieu of a resounding endorsement, Cassidy has been left to twist in the wind here.

“We have to look at making some changes as far as how we play and the way we do some of the things,” Neely said. “I think Bruce is a fantastic coach. I mean, he’s brought a lot of success to this organization. I like him as a coach. So, we’ll see where it goes.

“But I do think we need to make some changes. And I think Bruce, a couple of days ago, he alluded to that. So, we’ll see where that goes.”

Cassidy, not unlike Barry Trotz with the Islanders, still has a year remaining on his contract (at $3 million, per CapFriendly.com).

Neely wasn’t thrilled with how the his power play performed against the Hurricanes and was frustrated his club couldn’t snatch a win on the road.

Wonder if he goes a little easier on his bunch after witnessing the shutdown job the Hurricanes are putting on the Rangers.

7. An incredible story here that is well worth your time. Former Minnesota Wild prospect Kris Foucault, who now plays in Germany, rescued a six-year-old girl from drowning in the Bahamas. Bravo.

8. The Florida Panthers — hockey’s most dangerous offensive team over 82 games — are a shocking 0-for-25 on the power play in these playoffs.

In the regular season, they operated at 24.4 per cent, fifth overall. If they don’t figure it out yesterday, they’re done.

The cruel irony is, the Cats paid a first-rounder to rent power-play maestro Claude Giroux, and it still hasn’t clicked 5-on-4.

9. Quote of the Week:

“I’ve never been more motivated than I am right now. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that I get this opportunity again and I’ll make sure I’m on the other side of it the next time.” — Dallas Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, after posting a 1.81 goals-against average and .954 save percentage in his first full NHL playoff series … and losing in seven games

10. A bunch of NHL Awards will be handed out one by one, starting June 1. The five biggies — Hart, Calder, Norris, Ted Lindsay and Vezina — will be saved for a one-hour televised live show on June 21.

Here are my predictions for the early winners.

Jack Adams: Darryl Sutter, Flames

Bill Masterton: Carey Price, Canadiens

Frank J. Selke: Patrice Bergeron, Bruins

Lady Byng: Kyle Connor, Jets

King Clancy: Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks

11. Bergeron, 36, said he won’t skate anywhere but Boston next season, but retirement is still on the table.

A frightening thought for an organization that could lose Mr. Selke while he’s still an elite centreman, especially considering the Bruins lost David Krejci to a similar decision last summer and patiently endured Tuukka Rask’s comeback attempt.

Neely wants to give the captain his space but would prefer an answer soonish.

“He understands that we have decisions to make coming up here,” Neely said. “I hope he feels good about his game still, because he had a pretty damn good year. So, hopefully he’s mentally prepared to have another one. You’ve got to give him some time to digest all that and talk with his family about it. But we have decisions to make coming up as well.

“It’s tough to find a Bergeron. Hopefully, he does come back. But if he doesn’t, we’ve got to go to work.” 

After Boston’s first fourth-place divisional finish and first Round 1 exit in five years, Neely conceded that he’s been contemplating a rebuild “for a while now.”

He’s a realist.

“As your core players and your better players start to age out, you do have to look at that. There’s no question,” Neely said. “But we do have some good young players in this lineup that hopefully continue to grow and hopefully we continue to add to that. But it is something you think about.”

12.  Lifelong Maple Leafs fan Mike Myers sported a rival Sabres sweater during his Late Show with Stephen Colbert appearance.

Love to Buffalo. Love to see it.

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