The Edmonton Oilers made waves on the first day of free agency Wednesday (July 13), signing goaltender Jack Campbell to a $25 million contract.
After coming up empty-handed in his attempts to upgrade between the pipes the last two summers, Oilers general manager Ken Holland finally got his man. The 30-year-old Campbell is coming off the best season of his NHL career, going 31-9-6 with a 2.64 goals against average (GAA) and .914 save percentage (SV%) in 49 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2021-22.
There’s going to be some pressure on Campbell in Edmonton, where many have felt the only thing separating the Oilers from Stanley Cup contention is quality goaltending. Riding the explosive scoring of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the Oilers had their longest playoff run in 16 years this spring, advancing to the Western Conference Final, where Edmonton goaltender Mike Smith struggled in a 4-0 series sweep by the Colorado Avalanche.
Campbell signed for five years and carries an AAV (average annual value) of $5 million. Here are five more things to know about the new Oilers netminder.
Campbell Is a Champion
Campbell has won championship titles in both professional and international hockey. He was the top goalie on the United States’ back-to-back gold-medal winning teams at the IIHF U18 World Championship in 2009 and 2010. Additionally, in 2010, he captured gold at the IIHF World Junior Championship, coming off the bench to stop 32 of 34 shots in leading Team USA to a heart-stopping 6-5 overtime win over Canada in Saskatoon, Sask. Campbell would also represent his country at World Juniors in 2011, winning bronze, and in 2012 when the annual tournament was co-hosted by Edmonton.
Later, Campbell was a member of the 2014 Calder Cup champion Texas Stars. He appeared in four American Hockey League playoff games with Texas that spring, going 2-1 with a 2.54 GAA and .917 SV% for the top affiliate of the Dallas Stars, who drafted Campbell 11th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Campbell Learned From Oilers Great
Campbell was unable to realize his potential in Dallas, playing just one game in the NHL with the club that drafted him. At the 2016 NHL Draft, he was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Nick Ebert, a seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft. In Los Angeles, Campbell worked with someone Edmonton fans know very well, Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford.
“You think of Jack as being happy-go-lucky, but he needed to go somewhere else to stop being a disappointment,” NHL goalie coach Jeff Reese said in a 2021 Toronto Sun article. “If you ask me, Bill Ranford did something with Jack in L.A. I don’t know exactly what, but I believe he saved his career.” (from ‘From failure to opportunity – the reconstruction of Jack Campbell’s career,’ Toronto Sun, 03/23/21).
Ranford, who is the Oilers’ all-time goalies leader in regular season games played (449) and Conn Smythe Trophy recipient in 1990 when Edmonton last won the Stanley Cup, built a relationship with Campbell that helped the former first-round pick turn his career around in L.A.
“We did a lot of work building him up, also from a psychological standpoint, working with him. You get a happy guy like Jack and sometimes what you see on the outside is not really what you find out is on the inside,” Ranford told the Toronto Sun. “Early on, he had this expectation of being an NHL goalie and when that didn’t happen, he took himself to some dark places. You start doing that and your career can start spiraling out of control quickly.
“The biggest thing we tried to explain was he didn’t know who he was. He didn’t know what he should look like. It’s a process we had to go through. And when you work with someone like Jack, who’s a workhorse, sometimes you need to reel him in a bit. He does everything 150%. You need to slow him down sometimes.”
Campbell Has Owned the Oilers
To put a new spin on an old phrase, “if you can’t beat ‘em, get ‘em to join you.” That’s the case with Edmonton signing Campbell, as the veteran goalie is unbeaten when facing the Oilers during his NHL career.
Over the last two seasons with the Maple Leafs, Campbell went 4-0 against Edmonton with a 1.50 GAA and .948 SV%. He recorded his first shutout as a member of the Leafs on Feb. 27, 2021, when he stopped all 30 Oilers shots in a 4-0 road victory for Toronto.
In three career outings at Rogers Place, one with Los Angeles and two with the Leafs, Campbell has a 1.50 GAA and .954 SV%.
Campbell Is a Rare American in Edmonton
When he makes his Oilers debut, Campbell will become only the seventh American goaltender to play a regular season game in Edmonton’s 43-season NHL history.
Of the prior six (Richard Bachman, Ty Conklin, Pete Lopresti, Al Montoya, Mike Morrison, and Anthony Stolarz), only Conklin has appeared in more than 21 games, and there are just two, Bachman along with Conklin, that have played for the Oilers in multiple seasons. Stolarz is the most recent Edmonton goalie from down south, going 0-2-0 over six appearances in 2018-19.
Additionally, if Campbell starts a playoff game for the Oilers, the Port Huron, Michigan, product would be the first U.S.-born netminder to do so. Conklin is the only American goalie to see the ice in an Oilers playoff game, appearing in relief in 2006.
Campbell Is Reuniting With Old Teammates
With their big free-agent addition, the 2022-23 Oilers are going to look like the Leafs of 2019-20. Toronto’s roster from three years ago includes no less than four players who are now with the Oilers: Campbell, defensemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci, and forward Zach Hyman.
Barrie joined the Oilers as a free agent prior to the 2020-21 campaign, while Ceci and Hyman both signed with the Oilers during last summer’s free agency frenzy.
Campbell was acquired by the Maple Leafs midway through the season, on Feb. 5, 2020, in a trade with the Kings that saw the Leafs also receive Kyle Clifford in exchange for Travis Moore and future draft picks. He would make just six starts for the Leafs before the pandemic would bring the NHL’s regular season to an early end in March. It would be summer before teams returned to the ice for the postseason, where the Leafs were upset 3-2 in their opening round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Campbell did not see any action in that 2020 series, but he has since been the only goalie to start a playoff game for the Leafs, who suffered crushing first-round upset losses to the Montreal Canadiens last year and Tampa Bay Lightning this spring. His postseason numbers were very good in 2021 (1.81 GAA, .934 SV%) but not so great in 2022 (3.15 GAA, .897 SV%). So like the Oilers, who have been seemingly on the cusp of something special for years, Campbell has something to prove and a hunger to satiate. Whether they continue to fall short or break through to the next level, they’ll do it together.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.