The Edmonton Oilers waived goaltender Jack Campbell on Tuesday in a sizable shakeup to a roster that was in desperate need of one.
The Oilers were seen as a Stanley Cup contender entering the season but are in second-to-last place in the NHL standings with a 2-8-1 record. The goaltending of Campbell and Stuart Skinner has arguably been the team’s biggest issue on a long list of them.
The duo has a collective .864 save percentage in all situations, leaving the Oilers last in the league in that category. Though Campbell has stopped pucks at a better rate than his partner — .873 for him and .856 for Skinner — his inability to save high-danger chances has been so apparent in the early going. Campbell has a .681 save percentage on those types of opportunities, per Natural Stat Trick — the third-worst mark in the NHL for goalies who’ve appeared in more than one game.
Skinner has by far provided the more reliable goaltending of the two since they both became regulars for the Oilers at the start of last season. The expectations of Campbell have been far greater, too.
The Oilers are running out of time to solve their goaltending woes
General manager Ken Holland signed Campbell to a five-year, $5 million annual average value contract on the first day of free agency in July 2022. The idea was for Campbell to give the Oilers their first legitimate starting goalie since Cam Talbot in 2017-18. Campbell was projected to play between 50 and 55 games in his first season with the rookie Skinner serving as the clear backup.
That plan never got off the ground.
Campbell struggled from the outset of the 2022-23 campaign and essentially lost his starter’s job to Skinner by American Thanksgiving. The Oilers were fortunate Skinner provided goaltending worthy of being the Calder Trophy runner-up. His work, amid Campbell’s struggles, potentially saved their season.
It looked as though Campbell had turned the page when he built off a .961 save percentage in 118 relief minutes in the playoffs and stopped 101 of 104 shots in three preseason starts. That body of work earned him the start for the season opener in Vancouver.
That night was a disaster for all involved as the Oilers were walloped 8-1 by the Canucks. Campbell was pulled after allowing four goals on 16 shots. He had one excellent start — he stopped 43 of 44 shots in Nashville on Oct. 17 — and the other four have been duds.
Campbell being waived is clearly a huge indictment on him. The same can be said of so many others in the organization.
The Oilers have been ineffective defensively and have been a train wreck when it comes to defending off the rush. They’ve hung Campbell and Skinner out to dry too often.
Jay Woodcroft and the coaching staff must bear some of the blame here, too. The decision to change their neutral and defensive zone schemes hasn’t taken well enough yet.
The Oilers were so determined to lower their goals against after allowing an average of 3.5 in 12 playoff games. Instead, they’re averaging 4.27 goals allowed through 11 games — better than only the lowly Sharks.
And then there’s Holland. If this wasn’t his signature signing as general manager, it’s a close second to Zach Hyman a year earlier.
Holland tried in subsequent offseasons to sign Jacob Markstrom and trade for Darcy Kuemper. He instead waited for Mikko Koskinen’s albatross contract to expire and for Mike Smith to hit long-term injured reserve before he addressed the goaltending.
The Oilers, with Holland having the final say, banked on Campbell’s good health and trusted his ability to control rebounds. That bet on Campbell couldn’t have been more off-base.
The decision to waive — and likely demote Campbell once he inevitably clears on Wednesday — represents Holland’s boldest in-season, non-trade deadline move since signing Evander Kane and firing coach Dave Tippett early in 2022.
The Oilers will get $387,500 in cap savings when Campbell is demoted, and Calvin Pickard comes up from AHL Bakersfield. The maximum of a player’s contract that can be buried in the minors is $1.15 million. Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli was the first to report that Pickard will be recalled before the Oilers face the Sharks on Thursday. That additional cap space is enough to keep emergency recall James Hamblin on the roster once Connor Brown or Mattias Janmark returns from injury.
Bigger moves will have to follow if the Oilers continue to sputter over the next few games. No one needs reminding that Leon Draisaitl has just one more year on his contract and Connor McDavid has only two.
(Photo of Jack Campbell: Eric Hartline / USA Today)