The offseason has barely begun for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans having only been bounced from the playoffs last week thanks to a Game 7 loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. While fans, as well as the team, are still recovering from that, speculation as to how this team will change over the next couple of months has already taken headlines following their post-season media availability.
For now, the Maple Leafs brass have challenged the need for change — at least major change. Kyle Dubas is expected to remain at the helm with Sheldon Keefe remaining behind the bench for the upcoming 2022-23 season.
On the ice, however, there will surely be some changes to the bottom six forwards as the Maple Leafs look for the answers that will get them through to the second round next season. But the biggest question mark for the Maple Leafs might come in the form of Jack Campbell, as the netminder is an unrestricted free agent and should be expecting a relatively large salary increase this summer — something the Maple Leafs can’t afford.
Campbell ‘Loves’ Being a Maple Leaf
To say that Campbell has become a beloved part of the Maple Leafs would be an understatement. His positive post-game interviews, his smiling face have been plastered on the hearts of Leafs Nation since day one and with his play this season, for the most part, he’s shown just how much he wants to win with this group.
Even in his press conference on Tuesday, at the team’s locker clean out, Campbell reaffirmed his love for the city of Toronto.
“Winning here means everything to me,” said the pending free-agent goaltender. “And I love the city of Toronto.”
He continued by saying, “I just absolutely love being a Leaf.”
Campbell has had his most success at the NHL level since coming over to the Maple Leafs. In that time he has a 51-14-9 in 77 regular season games with a .916 save percentage and a 2.50 goals against average. He’s 19th on the team’s all-time wins list and has done what the organization has asked him to over his short tenure with the team.
That said, the love for a city and the interest in wanting to win with a team doesn’t always dictate a players’ future. As Campbell pointed out again in his press conference, it’ll come down to the negotiations between the Maple Leafs’ Dubas and his agent.
Maple Leafs, Campbell Comes Down to Affordability
As it stands, the Maple Leafs have just over $7 million in cap space for next season. With that, they have a number of restricted free-agents that need a contract and holes to fill within the lineup — one of which is goaltending. However, with Petr Mrazek on the books for $3.8 million for another two seasons, the Maple Leafs have put themselves in a tough position when negotiations really get going with Campbell’s party.
It was speculated at one point that the Maple Leafs had offered Campbell a contract that carried an annual average value of $2.5 million. While it might be just that — speculation — the offer albeit a raise of just under $1 million per season can be a slight insult considering what Mrazek did for the Maple Leafs this season and what they are shelling out for him.
While it’s fairly clear that there is interest on both sides to see Campbell back in blue and white and under contract for at least a few seasons, the dollar amount may be the breaking point for the Maple Leafs’ brass.
Considering the room they have, it wouldn’t be farfetched to think that they would likely want to keep Campbell in the $3.5 to $4 million range, while the open market could see him bring in something more in the $5 to $5.5 million range if he were to test free agency.
Now, this is all assuming that the Maple Leafs don’t move assets to open up cap space. That said there are options to make room for a larger Campbell contract — including, Justin Holl, Alex Kerfoot, among others.
Either way, it seems for the time being that both sides are saying all the right things. Campbell has enjoyed his time in Toronto, while the Maple Leafs would like to have him back in net for the right price in 2022-23.
But what if this is the end of the road, the fork that separates the sides? Surely, the Maple Leafs will have other options in net, with Chris Johnston even saying on TSN1050 that the team could be in the market for the next Campbell — a goalie who hasn’t broken out yet at a cheap price — if he does, in fact, leave during free agency.
As for fans of the Maple Leafs and their beloved goalie, the time may be now for them to wave goodbye to the one they call ‘Soupy.’ After all, at this point in time his return to the franchise is up in the air — somewhere in the range of 50-50 — and if the Maple Leafs are able to bring him back there will surely be other sacrifices made to clear up cap room.
It may be premature, but get ready for a tearful goodbye when it comes to Jack Campbell.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.