Thursday, September 29 2022

Is there a goalie in the NHL feeling more pressure, right now, than Jack Campbell? Sheldon Keefe indicated that Campbell will return to the Maple Leafs net on Saturday, so let’s review what the 30-year-old must deal with.

No denying recent struggles by Maple Leafs goalies: Campbell and Mrazek, especially

For quite some time, Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek have either been injured, inconsistent, or both.

Since Jan. 1, Campbell’s 9-4-2 with a troubling .882 save percentage, and Mrazek hasn’t been much better (10-5-0, .890). Lately, little-known goalie Erik Källgren has been a better bet for Toronto.

Even while acknowledging those struggles, losing Petr Mrazek for approximately six weeks really hurts the Maple Leafs, and gives Jack Campbell less breathing room. If Mrazek can beat estimates and be ready by playoff time, would he be sharp?

Most likely, at least the early part of a Maple Leafs playoff run would boil down to Jack Campbell’s play. That would be plenty of pressure for any goalie, but in Toronto? Tough draw.

Playing well might not be enough

Fair or not, many will view the Maple Leafs as failures if they don’t venture deep into the playoffs.

Considering the quality of top teams in the Atlantic Division, that outlook seems especially harsh. Sincerely, you could do just about everything right, and still fall short against the Lightning, Panthers, or Bruins.

If the playoffs began today, the Maple Leafs would draw the repeat defending champion Lightning. Yet, as you can see from the standings, it’s easy to imagine the Bruins making into the Atlantic’s top three, possibly at Toronto’s expense. (If the Buds fell to the wild card and things broke a certain way, they wouldn’t get the most appetizing draw in the Carolina Hurricanes, either.)

Consider how strong the Bruins have been lately. Ponder how the Panthers went all-out at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. Realize that the Lightning spent quite a bit and are, you know, the Lightning.

Personally, I’d see no shame in losing to any of those teams (and the Hurricanes), particularly if Toronto performed well. Again, people won’t want to hear that, though.

This standings situation also ramps up the pressure now, not just during the playoffs. If the Maple Leafs fall into a wild-card spot, that could be part of a negative narrative, and Campbell might soak up much of the blame.

Campbell’s next contract, and perception league-wide

On the most basic level, Jack Campbell presents an inspiring story.

After becoming a fairly rare goalie who was selected with a first-rounder (11th overall by the Stars in 2010), Campbell struggled at multiple levels. The word “bust” was thrown around.

Yet, Campbell kept plugging away, and eventually found himself as an NHL goalie. Again, that’s inspiring.

But what is Campbell’s place among the NHL’s more established goalies? Last season, Campbell gradually won the Maple Leafs starting goalie job from Frederik Andersen, posting a .921 save percentage. Yet, for all Campbell accomplished, it’s telling that the Maple Leafs didn’t just sign Petr Mrazek. They gave him term.

That gesture didn’t doom his future in Toronto. Still, factor in their eternal salary cap struggles, and it’s fair to assume that the Maple Leafs viewed Campbell as a platoon (1A/1B) goalie, rather than a no-brainer No. 1.

It’s worth noting that, with all the turbulence of this season, Campbell’s numbers remain respectable-to-good (.914 save percentage in 40 games). To prove he’s worth the contract of a starter, he’ll probably need to play at a high level going forward.

Whether you’ve been impressed or indifferent to Campbell’s work to this point, it’s fair to say that he’s unproven in certain situations.

This season already represents a modest career-high of 40 games played. Last year’s seven-game series against the Canadiens makes up Campbell’s entire playoff resume at the NHL level.

So, yeah, there’s a lot riding on the rest of this season and the playoffs — for both Jack Campbell, and the Maple Leafs.

More hockey news

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Jack Campbell under enormous pressure as he returns to Maple Leafs originally appeared on NBCSports.com

Source: Yahoo Sports

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