Heading into Wednesday's start to NHL free agency, one of the biggest unanswered questions revolves around the Toronto Maple Leafs and whether or not they will re-sign All-Star goalie Jack Campbell.
If Campbell isn't re-signed, he will become one of the most notable names on the unrestricted free agent market. As of Saturday, Campbell and general manager Kyle Dubas were still discussing a new deal but had not reached an agreement, according to TSN's Darren Dreger:
There are several moving pieces involved in Toronto's negotiations with Campbell, one of them being the fact that the Leafs have some cap flexibility and trade options on the table.
"The Leafs got rid of Petr Mrazek’s contract and increased their flexibility under the cap. Teams with an available goalie were all reaching out in the immediate aftermath to gauge the Leafs' interest," The Athletic's Jonas Siegel wrote.
Campbell isn't the only goalie option the Leafs can consider this offseason. And, in many ways, moving on from him and exploring other avenues actually makes a lot of sense.
Coming off a strong statistical season (a 31-9-6 record and .914 save percentage), Campbell is eying a substantial pay raise from his $1.65 million 2021-22 salary. He should also be looking for a long-term commitment, possibly something in the four-to-five-year range.
The length of Campbell's next contract could be a sticking point for Dubas.
Toronto has made the playoffs in six straight campaigns but has not gotten past the first round. The Maple Leafs are not exactly in win-now mode and could be staring down a rebuild in the not-too-distant future.
Committing to Campbell on a long-term deal would limit Toronto's options for multiple future offseasons. That wouldn't be an issue if Campbell was a proven perennial All-Star, but he is not.
The 30-year-old has only emerged as a reliable starter over the last two years—69 of his 135 career starts came over the past two seasons—and as Colton Pankiw of The Hockey Writers recently pointed out, Campbell wasn't as reliable this year as raw numbers might suggest:
"Post-All-Star break, Campbell battled injury but also struggled immensely when healthy, recording an ugly 3.28 GAA [goals against average] along with a .894 SV% in 17 games. On top of that, he wasn’t particularly strong in the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning, with a 3.15 GAA and a .897 SV%. So, the question is, which goaltender is the real Campbell? Is it the guy who looked like a Vezina candidate early on in the 2021-22 season, or one, who over the second half, looked like a journeyman NHLer at best?"
The reality is that Toronto doesn't know exactly where Campbell's floor rests, which makes a long-term deal risky—again, if the Leafs were ready to push for the Stanley Cup right now, the risk would be easier to swallow.
This is why Dubas has at least considered alternatives, like trading for Ottawa Senators goalie Matt Murray:
On its surface, trading for Murray instead of retaining Campbell might not make a ton of sense. Murray was limited to 20 games this past season and is set to carry a cap hit of $6.25 million in each of the next two.
This is assuming, though, that Ottawa cannot be convinced to take on some of Murray's salary in retention. If that's the case, Murray is unlikely to cost more on a per-year basis than Campbell does on his next deal.
Murray is also two years younger than Campbell, has more starting experience (246 starts vs. 125) and has only two years remaining on his contract. This means Toronto would have the ability to his future sooner than it would Campbell's.
With coach Sheldon Keefe potentially entering a make-or-break season, this is an important factor to consider. Toronto simply can't know what its roster or front office will look like several years down the road. How would a 32- or 33-year-old Campbell fit with the Leafs? That's a total unknown.
Of course, the biggest reason why the Maple Leafs have to consider moving on from Campbell is the fact that they're not sold on his long-term upside. They like him, but according to Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun, the Leafs don't love Campbell as a long-term option.
"The Leafs and most of their supporters loved Campbell the person, but the club isn’t 100% sold on committing to the longer term he seeks. At 30, he’s two years older than Murray and can be high maintenance when in ultra-competitive overdrive, blaming himself for team failures. He has also lost two straight Game 7s in the opening round."
If the Leafs are going to commit to Campbell for multiple years and millions of dollars, they have to be 100 percent sold on both his floor and his ceiling. They reportedly are not, and they're not backed into a corner when it comes to addressing the goalie position either—this is not a Campbell-or-bust situation.
The Leafs have a lot to consider when it comes to Campbell's future, and it goes beyond what he may provide over the next season or two.
Toronto has other options, and they're worth exploring as free agency approaches. The last thing the Maple Leafs should want to do is end up stuck with a player in whom they don't fully believe on a deal they cannot get out of.