Welcome back to the THN Hot Seat series, a continuing collection of THN.com columns where we single out a member of every NHL team who’ll be surrounded by incredible pressure in the 2022-23 season. The individual we zero in on as the Hot Seat “honoree” could be either an NHL player, franchise owner, head coach, or GM. On this day, we’re examining the Edmonton Oilers.
OILERS HOT SEAT: JACK CAMPBELL, GOALTENDER
WHY: He may be the nicest guy who gets Hot-Seated this year, but Campbell can’t escape from the expectations that are now on him as he begins his first season with the Oilers. The 30-year-old has jumped into the fire in Edmonton with both feet; he’s fully aware of fan, media and team pressure, all of which accompany the five-year, $25-million contract he signed as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Campbell has had stretches of time in his five-season NHL career where he looked like a No. 1 goaltender, particularly in the early part of his career as a Toronto Maple Leaf. A battler by nature, he stole the starter’s job from Frederik Andersen in 2021 and posted a sparkling .931 Save Percentage in his first seven NHL playoff games that same year. Unfortunately for Campbell, he wobbled last year, with his SP dropping from .921 to .914 in the regular season, and his playoff numbers – .897 SP, and a 3.15 Goals-Against Average – were not acceptable. He was indeed going up against the dominant Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the post-season, but Toronto needed someone to put up better numbers than Campbell did.
It’s no surprise, then, that Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas was reticent to give Campbell the salary and contract term length he eventually got from Oilers GM Ken Holland. If Dubas believed Campbell could hang onto the starter’s job for even four years, he would’ve matched what Edmonton gave him and made Toronto’s goalie situation much cleaner. He didn’t, though, and that’s a negative commentary on Campbell’s game.
That doesn’t mean Campbell can’t make Dubas regret his decision not to keep him in Blue and White. Campbell is now playing on a team that has expectations just as high as the Leafs’, and a fan base equally rabid and demanding. Like he did in Toronto, Campbell will be playing on a team with some of the most elite offense-minded talent in superstar center Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and Campbell won’t be hurting for run support. But he isn’t playing in front of a defense corps that isn’t one of the league’s best. Some nights, he may well be hung out to dry by Edmonton’s blueliners, but Campbell’s job is to overcome that and steal games.
Campbell will establish a positive relationship with Edmonton’s media and fans, as he did in Toronto. But if he can’t back up his kind words with wins – and especially with wins at playoff time – Oilers fans are going to grill Holland for handing out such a large contract to a guy who has all of 135 NHL regular-season games under his belt. It’s not necessarily Campbell’s fault he hasn’t played more than the 49 games in a single season he played last year, but it is a potentially bad harbinger of what could be ahead for him in Edmonton.
As his backup, Campbell has 23-year-old Stuart Skinner, but if Skinner plays many more games than the 13 he played for the Oilers as a rookie in 2021-22, it could spell trouble for Edmonton. That would mean Campbell has struggled, and in the first year of a lucrative contract, Oilers fans should not want to see that. They should be seeing Campbell play at least 50 games, and seeing Skinner providing solid support to him.
Hockey produces many wonderful people, and Campbell is one of them. But the sport is a zero-sum game, and Campbell knows he won’t have the backing of fans if he doesn’t win far more than he loses, he’ll be in a disastrous climate in Edmonton – and he’s locked in there for some time to come.