Skinner has earned the crease in Edmonton
The Edmonton Oilers have a Jack Campbell problem.
Signed to a five-year deal last summer, Campbell was supposed to be the piece that brought long-term stability to the Oilers’ net. Campbell had spent the prior three seasons working in a platoon in Toronto, and by and large was a reliable puck-stopper under Sheldon Keefe’s watch. Edmonton’s bet was that Campbell’s reliability would bolster a lineup that could compete for a Stanley Cup – after all, when the top of your roster starts with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, you should routinely be in contention.
The one wrinkle with Campbell and financially committing to him? His body of work predating Edmonton was rather shallow. For a goaltender who saw his first career start in the 2013-14 season with the Dallas Stars, Campbell only played 135 regular-season games prior to signing with the Oilers.
Compare that to someone like Darcy Kuemper, who signed with the Washington Capitals for a nearly identical contract. Kuemper has also been reliable, but has played more than twice as many games as Campbell, which always builds more confidence in a player’s statistical profile.
There is no doubt this season has been a frustrating one for Campbell. Over 30 games, Campbell is stopping just 88.7 per cent of shots, a fresh low after conceding six goals to the Colorado Avalanche in an overtime loss on Sunday.
Save percentages are generally a team-derived measurement and I do think it speaks to a lack of defensive integrity and structure in front of Campbell. But it is not wholly a function of defensive play. Not only has freshly extended Stuart Skinner performed much better (91.3 per cent stop rate) in the same environment, but Campbell is also conceding significantly more goals than expected based on the shot profile he’s faced, and that’s a real area of concern.
Consider Campbell’s goals saved versus expectations over the course of his career, and pay specific attention to the last calendar year:
Toronto’s goaltending carousel towards the end of last season caused their fan base some real heart ache – both Campbell and Petr Mrazek were in and out of the lineup with injuries, and when they were playing they were inconsistent at best. But Campbell’s struggles down the stretch were more exception than the norm for his play in Toronto, and even for elite goaltenders, you are going to see real performance volatility over a 20-game stretch.
The concerning part is that rough stretch towards the end of his stint in Toronto has continued in Edmonton. Over 30 games, Campbell has conceded 15 more goals than expected, a staggering number and third-worst in the NHL – only Columbus’ Elvis Merzlikins (-24) and Vancouver’s Spencer Martin (-23) have been worse this year, and both of those goaltenders have been under fire with their respective fan bases.
It's the sort of recipe that sees a goaltender benched in pivotal games, including the playoffs. Particularly when there is growing evidence that another internal option in Skinner may be the more productive goaltender. Consider Skinner’s distribution of goals saved versus expectation, albeit on a very limited basis of games, versus Campbell’s career and season-to-date in Edmonton:
The problem for Campbell here is that time is not on his side. The Oilers can ill-afford to drop more games in the thick of a competitive playoff race and are in desperate need of banking more points.
There’s no doubt the organization still believes in Campbell. But as ugly losses mount, so too will the pressure to move away from a platoon and start feeding Skinner more starts. Whether that’s the right move or not will be sharply debated, but if you are allocating ice time on merit, Skinner has earned it.
Keep an eye on head coach Jay Woodcroft and how he handles his net as the Oilers move into a season-defining stretch come March.
Data via Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference, HockeyViz