Before you start typing your comments, note that this is only a hypothetical question. Whether or not it happens is not set in stone. Even when your team keeps winning, there’s nothing wrong with entertaining possibilities or pondering scenarios. The turnaround that the Oilers have seen in their goaltending has been astronomical. Stuart Skinner went from averaging an .863 SV% in October to averaging a .953 SV% in January, looking now like the version of himself that was nominated for Rookie of the Year last season. Calvin Pickard has been a dependable backup when called upon, allowing Skinner to occasionally have nights off and not burn out. But what about Jack Campbell? What about the $5M goaltender sporting an .873 SV% in the NHL before getting sent down to the AHL?
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When Campbell started his confidence stint with the Bakersfield Condors, his first three games saw him post save percentages of .800, .846, and .808. His goals-against average calculated in those games was 4.38. I know total shots, saves, and goals allowed don’t tell the whole story, but math was not his friend. Just in the first AHL game he played, a highlight of him allowing a soft goal made its way onto social media, and all Oilers fans could do was sigh in disbelief. “He’s already finished,” they thought. “The poor guy can’t catch a break,” they thought. Then he played better games, then worse games again, then better games again. His most consistent attribute has been being inconsistent. Up to this point now, he has a 9-7-0-1 record in Bakersfield with a .903 SV% and 3.02 GAA. He’s won 5 of his last 6 starts, posting a .927 SV% and 2.33 GAA in those games. That is the brand of Soup that Edmonton wanted to taste at the start of 2023/2024. So all of that begs my question. If Ken Holland doesn’t land a 1B goalie at the Trade Deadline, could we see Jack Campbell back in an Oilers uniform?<img height="0" width="0" src="https://ticketmaster.evyy.net/i/5142595/410529/4272" style="position:absolute" border="0" /
Edmonton’s current 16 game winning streak with help from strong defensive play and better netminding might perhaps change some people’s stance on Deadline Day plans. Neither Campbell nor Skinner could stop two beach balls before the team’s comeback in the standings, and that was always a more plaguing issue than how the team in front of them looked on paper. If they made one mistake, they were never getting a save to bail them out. That’s no longer the case; they no longer feel pressured to play a near-perfect game. But we still can’t overlook the improvements on play without the puck that has absolutely benefitted Edmonton as well, thanks to Paul Coffey. If the team is playing more responsibly, and if the goalies are more confident making saves, does that open the door for Campbell to come back?
I ultimately lean towards a trade because even if his NHL stats in Oilers games were better, how do you keep his contract under the cap for another three years if he’s not your #1 goalie? If not midseason, he may more likely be gone in the offseason anyway. But I also think he’d still have to get at least a couple of NHL games in order for GMs to see that he’s worth trading for. You can’t just have your team’s perspective, you have to consider what other teams think, too. “His ceiling must be high with his AHL performance, sell high on him now.” Maybe, but he also played well in the preseason, and we all know what happened after that. With all that being said, I also worry that he currently watches the Oilers dominating without him, then plays another stinker when he comes back and blames himself all over again, thinking the team suddenly losing again had more to do with him. His low self-esteem has always been the biggest weakness in his game.
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Suppose we’re still hanging onto him when the Playoffs start. That sounds like a bad idea because of the start he had. But remember last year’s Playoffs? Game 4 in Round 1 against the L.A. Kings, down 3-0 after the first period. Coming off a regular season as statistically bad as this one, he played the rest of that game in relief of Skinner, and his great play prompted Edmonton’s comeback win before they eventually won the series in Game 6. I don’t deny how terrible his contract looks right now, but I will always believe that he deserved more chances to start in the Playoffs after that game while Skinner was burnt out and struggling. That’s not a compliment, it was a fault of the coaching staff at the time. I’m not saying they would’ve totally won the Cup, I’m saying it was at least worth a try.
The NHL postseason is an unpredictable parody; we’ve witnessed that time and time again. A good postseason can often forgive a bad regular season. If Soup stays in Edmonton past the Trade Deadline, may he turn into the unsung Playoff hero that he could’ve been last year? With the Oilers pulling off a great comeback story so far, could he write a great comeback story, too?