Oilers have to be regretting long-term contract for Jack Campbell

Feb 23 2023, 4:46 pm

When the Edmonton Oilers committed to Jack Campbell on a $25 million, five-year deal this past summer, the expectation was that he’d be the team’s starter for many years.

Only 11 goalies in the league have a contract as large and as long as Campbell’s, setting the expectation that he’d be one of the league’s top goaltenders.

The reality ā€” at least so far ā€” has proven otherwise.

A little over 75% into the first season of that contract, the Oilers ā€” and their fanbase ā€” might be wishing they had a mulligan on signing Campbell away after a three-year tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He’s been heavily outplayed by Stuart Skinner over the course of the season, with the two fighting for the No. 1 job all season long.

Even if general manager Ken Holland would never publicly admit it, it doesn’t seem like the signing of Campbell was the best move for his franchise.

And while it was natural to wonder how the Leafs would fare with the new-look duo of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov in net, they’ve both looked like much better acquisitions than committing the term and money that the Oilers did with Campbell.

Campbell’s performance is tough to stomach… but nothing new

Campbell has a record of 17-8-4 in 30 games, which wouldn’t raise any alarm bells if it was the only way we judged his performance.

But with a goals-against average of 3.39 and a save percentage of .887 for the Oilers this season, the Oilers have usually been winning in spite of Campbell, rather than the other way around.

Just 10 of his 30 starts have seen Campbell allow two goals or less. When the Oilers are winning with him in the net, they’re more often than not needing three goals or more to do so.

“I believe heā€™s digging in and I believe heā€™s going to be fine. I believe weā€™re going to have good goaltending,” Holland told The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman back in November. “Coming into the season, there was big pressure. He puts pressure on himself to live up to the expectations. Heā€™s just got to learn how to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.”

Campbell’s save percentage sat at .876 on the season when he spoke to Nugent-Bowman on November 25. While he has improved, he’s only brought it up to .894 in the games played since.

But the thing is, Campbell had a track record of inconsistency well before the Oilers decide to commit to him long-term.

With the Leafs, Campbell was sporting a .937 save percentage in the first three months of the 2021-22 season through 23 games and was even garnering some buzz for the Vezina Trophy. But the hot streak wore off almost as quickly as it started, as he carried a save percentage of .893 from January onwards last season in his final 26 games.

CampbellĀ canĀ be a great NHL goaltender, but he’s only ever had one full season as a team’s starter, and looked very, very beatable for half of it. In fact, he’s already at the second-most minutes in a single season that he’s ever had, and there are still 24 games remaining in Edmonton’s schedule.

MaybeĀ someone was destined to sign Campbell on a long-term contract, but the Oilers could’ve avoided the deal had they simply opted to gamble on a shorter-term fix.

The OilersĀ did need to find a solution in goalie for this season with two goalies departing, but they seemed like they were justĀ hopefulĀ that Campbell would play to his best. Clearly, that hasn’t been the case.

Stuart Skinner’s emergence

Skinner’s development as an NHL goalie was hindered last season by the presence of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith in the Oilers net, as he had just 13 starts in 2021-22, almost all of which came as an injury replacement.

It’s well documented that Koskinen’s contract wasn’t in the Oilers’ best interest when former Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli signed the three-year contract extension as his last tangible move before being fired in January 2019.

Koskinen still led the team with 45 starts last year with a .903 save percentage in his final season in the NHL, with the young Skinner rarely getting much of a shot at the crease despite having a .913 mark himself.

After a shaky first season in Edmonton, Smith performed admirably in two more years with the Oilers, including a run to last season’s Western Conference Final. Smith made sense as the team’s No. 1 option come playoff time.

But because of the Oilers committing so much time last year to two goalies who are now out of the league, Skinner never really got the reps at the NHL level to showcase his game on a consistent basis until this year.

It’s hard to tell what his development would’ve looked like with more time in the Oilers’ crease prior to this season, but perhaps the Oilers wouldn’t have felt the need to sign a player like Campbell had they seen more of Skinner’s potential in the previous few seasons.

The Oilers have some BIG decisions to make

By the time Jack Campbell’s contract has expired, we’ll be 75% into another American presidential term, have watched two Olympic Games, and have seen the FIFA World Cup already hosted in Canada.

In other news, it’s still got PLENTY of term left on it, with the Oilers themselves looking very different by the end of the 2026-27 year.

Leon Draisaitl’s contract goes until 2025, when he’ll be 29, while Connor McDavid’s goes until 2026, when he’ll also be 29.

For better or for worse, Campbell and Skinner are the Oilers’ goalie duo during McDavid and Draisaitl’s guaranteed time in Edmonton, barring a trade or other unforeseen circumstances.

Edmonton will have to decide exactly how they navigate this situation, with Skinner trending in the right direction and Campbell doing anything but.

Will Campbell turn it around and make the critics look like a fool? Will the Oilers have to make some sort of salary cap dump trade or a buyout in the future to get themselves off Campbell’s contract?

There are plenty of questions to ask, but the biggest one might be: what would the Oilers look like, both now and in the future, had they never signed Campbell?

2027 is a long way away. Every decision that goes into building a Stanley Cup contender matters, and it seems like the Oilers blew this one.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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