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Does Jack Campbell stabilize the Oilers in net?

August 1, 2022, 1:46 PM ET [39 Comments]
Sean Maloughney
Edmonton Oilers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
It's been a very simple yet effective offseason for the Oilers thus far.

While there is little in new players added to the roster, bringing back Brett Kulak and Evander Kane instead of a different, likely less preferred options in free agency cannot be discounted. The biggest "new" addition to the team is goalie Jack Campbell, who will be counted on to be the starting netminder for the Oilers moving forward.

Is Campbell an upgrade over Mike Smith? In many ways yes, and in some ways no.

From February 11th, when Jay Woodcroft was brought in after the firing of Dave Tippett, to the end of the regular season, Mike Smith appeared in 20 games, going 14-5-1 with a .926 save percentage. That ranked 4th in the NHL over that period, with only Igor Shesterkin, Darcy Kuemper, and Linus Ullmark posting higher numbers.

*all numbers are taken from All Strengths with goalies who had played at least 800 minutes

Over that same period, Jack Campbell ranked 32nd with an .899 in 16 games, going 10-2-3 in that time. Right off the bat that looks like a massive downgrade for the Oilers but as always, context is needed.

With both Smith and Campbell, we are discussing goalies pre and post injury. For Mike Smith, the 40 year old played only eight games from October to the beginning of February, dealing with groin and other injuries. The netminder went 2-4-1 in those games with an .890.

For Jack Campbell, from the beginning of the season to February 17th, the 30 year old netminder went 23-7-3 in 35 games played with a .924. That ranked 5th in the NHL behind Shesterkin, Husso, Andersen, and Markstrom only. It was after that the troubles began for Campbell.

Campbell missed two weeks at the beginning of March due to a rib injury. While coach Sheldon Keefe stated it was not something that was hampering his play beforehand, both Campbell himself as well as defenseman Morgan Reilly told reporters it was something that was bothering him for some time. Regardless it was at this time that Campbell went from a potential Vezina Finalist to questions on whether he was a true starter.

This will be the biggest question going into the season, which Jack Campbell are the Oilers getting? I expect it to be the solid, and reliable option he has proven to be through most of his career. While his numbers dipped below .900 at some stages of last season, his career average is 0.918%.

Mike Smith's play last season came under extraordinary circumstances. Woodcroft stressed multiple times that missing nearly the first half of the season was beneficial for Smith as when he was prepared to play he was fully rested without the pains and aches of a season on him like every other goalie. That wasn't going to happen again.

While Mike Smith is more prone to the highlight reel game, stealing a game from a certain loss, he was also far more susceptible to being the cause of a loss on a goal that had no business going in. It was a highwire act that the Oilers had to juggle with him on a nightly basis. In Campbell, reliability is the name of the game which will be a calming presence to the team in front of him. The team will not need to change how they play in front of him, depending on "which Campbell they are getting that night."

Woodcroft is a systems based coach and I expect he will work closely with Campbell to assess where his strengths and weaknesses are in net and reformat his group in front to cover those deficiencies. With any goalie save for maybe four or five names there is always going to be a gamble on what the team is getting but Campbell is a solid bet for the Oilers with enough ability to go hot at the right time and see this team move further than the Western Conference Finals and hopefully, to a Cup.
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