Why sentiment won't factor in Jack Campbell's Maple Leafs future
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell (36) reacts after giving up a goal to Tampa Bay Lightning's Corey Perry during the second period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Sunday, May 8, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. Photo by Chris O'Meara/AP.

To know Jack Campbell is to love Jack Campbell.

And Kyle Dubas has known the lovable goaltender for a looooong time – nearly half a lifetime, in fact, back to when they were a young player agent and hot-shot teenage prospect, respectively.

That was before Dubas swung a massive trade to bring Campbell to the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and before he pulled off a shrewd move under pressure in February 2020 to make him a Maple Leaf. 

That shared history adds an interesting layer to one of the larger decisions hanging over Dubas’s off-season, too.

He made clear during an end-of-season media availability this week that he’ll bring no sentiment to the bargaining table. Asked if getting Campbell’s signature on a contract extension was a priority, he replied in a manner that suggested the 30-year-old goaltender was no less or more important than any of the organization’s other players eligible to walk free on July 13.

“I do have a long relationship with him,” said Dubas. “I think that I would put Jack in the same grouping in terms of he, Ilya Mikheyev, Mark Giordano that are unrestricted free agents – Ilya Lyubushkin – in that we’ll sit down as a group here in the coming days and weeks and then (assistant GM Brandon Pridham) will get to work in speaking with their representatives to get an idea of what expectations are.

“We’ll begin to look at the marketplace and make our decisions from there.”

By now the sides should have a reasonably good idea of where they each see the market. The Leafs held talks with Campbell’s agent, Kurt Overhardt of KO Sports, before letting him play out the season as their No. 1 with an uncertain future and may have seen that uncertainty contribute to his mid-season slide.

Still, Campbell finished with strong enough numbers to argue for at least $5-million per year on his next contract after seeing Cal Petersen, Juuse Saros, Linus Ullmark and Elvis Merzlikins sign medium-term deals in that range over the past 12 months.

As much as he loves playing in Toronto – and the man who was regularly regaled with “Soupppp!” chants at Scotiabank Arena seems to deeply love both team and city – there isn’t much room for sentiment on Campbell’s end of the decision, either.

It took him 12 years after being selected 11th overall to finally carry more than half of his team’s starts in an NHL season and his career earnings come in at roughly $8.7.-million, according to puckpedia.com.

He could more than double that over the course of his next deal, making it the most important one he’ll ever sign.

In the wake of the seven-game series loss to Tampa, Campbell was still speaking like a man with no intention of moving on – “I can’t wait to see what we can do as a team and myself personally next season,” he said Tuesday – but the tone could still change when it comes time to do business.

Should the sides not find common ground on a new deal, the Leafs would be faced with a big task in forging on without him.

They’ll almost certainly be trying to unload the remaining two years of Petr Mrázek’s $3.8-million AAV contract and could conceivably wind up chasing two goaltenders this summer. There are familiar names, but no sure things among a free-agent class at the position that includes Marc-Andre Fleury, Darcy Kuemper, Mikko Koskinen, Braden Holtby, Martin Jones, Ville Husso and others.

Campbell has a higher save percentage than all of those men across the last two seasons – sitting 10th overall league-wide at .916. He’s 11th in wins with 48.

There are also intangibles to find behind those numbers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beloved teammate this side of Jason Spezza.

“We all love Soup,” said Auston Matthews. “He shows up every game no matter what. He wants to be in there, he wants to compete.”

That was never more evident than in the way he rebuilt himself following a rough middle patch of the season and nearly a month off due to injury in March. The contract situation started weighing heavily on Campbell’s mind after an appearance at the NHL all-star game and he says he had to get back to “going out and having fun and competing for my guys in the room.”

Campbell won eight of 11 starts down the stretch and held serve against former Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy in the series with the Lightning. One member of the team told NorthStar Bets that Campbell’s performance in Game 7 was as good as he’d ever seen him play.

Even Dubas tipped his cap at the turnaround.

“Maybe it wasn’t learning, it was reaffirming something that I had always known about Jack Campbell,” he said. “His ability to start the year great, deal with a stretch of poor form, find his way back and then stabilize himself and be ready for when the team needs him.”

In many ways, it has been a great match.

Campbell still fondly remembers getting the phone call from Dubas telling him he’d been traded to Toronto, and the two-plus years since have seen him firmly establish himself as a quality NHL goaltender.

“He didn’t put any pressure on me or anything and I just remember him saying ‘just be yourself,”’ said Campbell. “I definitely feel like I can still give him more, you know? Getting the job done in the playoffs.

“It’s just been an unbelievable experience and I just absolutely love being a Leaf.”

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