2023-24’s Biggest Storylines #3 – A Bounce Back From Jack Campbell
Photo credit:© Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
We are into the final three storylines that I’ll be watching this season. These are the ten things that will undoubtedly define the 2023-24 season for the Edmonton Oilers and there are plenty of reasons to be positive about this team heading into the season.
Today, we’re talking about goaltending and I’ll start this with a take that I don’t even think is that hot: Jack Campbell’s save percentage will be better than .888 next season.
I say that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek because let’s be honest, it’s hardly a hot take. Even if you include last season, Campbell is a career .910 goaltender and he will likely be much closer to that in his second season in Edmonton.
He had a tough first year in Edmonton, no one is going to pretend that the 2022-23 campaign was anything but miserable from a results perspective, but having a hard first season in a new market is something that’s happened to other goalies in the past. Hello Jakob Markstrom.
Now, Campbell likely isn’t bouncing back to a Vezina level, but that’s fine. The Oilers don’t need him to be at that level. They just need him to be a solid 1B behind Stuart Skinner next season. If he can play 30-35 games and keep his save percentage around .905 then that will be a massive win.
That’s not a high bar at all. It’s actually a totally reasonable expectation.
Think about this: the Oilers finished the season just two points back of the Vegas Golden Knights for the top spot in the entire Western Conference. They were very close to being the best team in the West even though they had a goalie who started 34 games and allowed four or more goals in 15 of those games. He allowed five or more in six of those games.
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
There were just too many nights where Campbell’s play sunk their chances to win hockey games and that needs to change this season.
If Campbell can bring his save percentage up to just .905, that will lead to a handful more wins for the team next season.
There’s reason to believe that could happen as well. Campbell had some solid stretches last season. In the month of January, he had a .913 save percentage and in his final five regular season appearances, he had a .910 save percentage.
I totally understand that some of you might be reading this and thinking that it’s embarrassing to be talking about how the team’s $5m goalie needs to just not be terrible and I totally understand that frustration, but this is the reality of the situation.
The contract is not a good one and unfortunately, we need to alter our expectations of Campbell. He will never be a $5m goalie for this team, but that doesn’t mean he will be terrible either. He can still contribute positively.
He was also exceptional in his multiple relief appearances in the playoffs and that brings me to my next point: managing Stuart Skinner’s workload next year.
The Oilers will need to be mindful of how they’re splitting up the workload between Campbell and Skinner because last season, they probably leaned on Skinner too much and we saw that come back to bite them during the playoffs.
I still think this is Stuart Skinner’s crease and he earned the right to be pencilled in as the starter with his play last season. He was flat-out exceptional during his rookie season and the 2022-23 season likely would have gone off the rails if it wasn’t for his play earlier in the year.
Is he a true number one goaltender or was last year potentially an anomaly? I think it’s more likely that he will solidify himself as a legitimate starting goalie next season, but we’ve seen young goalies take steps backward before.
The Oilers shouldn’t just assume that Skinner can handle 50+ starts next season because it’s his second season in the league.
Last season, they overworked Skinner and we saw his play fall off during the playoffs. They need to make sure that they don’t make that mistake again. Keeping Skinner fresh, because he will in all likelihood be their number one next season when the playoffs roll around, will be very important.
Campbell should play 35+ games again next season. If he brings his save percentage back to a respectable number and gives the Oilers more quality starts than he did last season, this team might not just win the Western Conference, they might run away with it.
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