The Toronto Maple Leafs have played better of late, in no small part due to the play of goalie Jack Campbell. That’s great news for the team and for Campbell as an individual who’ll go into next summer as an unrestricted free agent. It’s still early, of course, but with each game, Campbell plays well in, the higher his asking price for next season and beyond will go.
If rumors are true and Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is interested in trading defenseman Justin Holl, you can chalk it up to the realities of a dead salary cap. Now that blueliner Morgan Rielly is signed through the next eight seasons, with a raise of $2.5 million, Dubas has to move around other pieces to make it all work under the cap. Trading Holl would almost cover that raise for Rielly, with Dubas only needing an extra $500,000 to equal things out.
But even if that works in the Maple Leafs’ favor, there’s still the matter of Campbell to deal with. So far this season, the soon-to-be-30-year-old has been terrific, posting a 1.86 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage, and all for a $1.65 million cap hit. If he keeps this up, the Leafs are going to have to pay a lot of money to hold on to him. You’d imagine that Campbell would be asking at least for the $3.8 million teammate Petr Mrazek got from Dubas this past off-season. That would be somewhere in the area of an additional $2.1 million in cap space Dubas needs to find. That loses you a Nick Ritchie-esque player at that amount of money, but many think Dubas should keep Campbell in Blue and White, even if it means they’ll need to sign more players at or near the league minimum salary to flesh out the roster.
If Dubas waits until the end of the season to decide whether to keep or move Campbell, his salary request may be a doozy, and not one that Dubas can maneuver around. In other words, a more interested team may scoop up Campbell in the 2022 off-season, and the Leafs will have nothing to show for it. That’s the conundrum that faces Dubas today; Does he wait a few weeks or months, and if Campbell still is playing well, attempt to sign him before he can hit the free agent market? Or does he bide his time, hope Campbell is reasonable about his pay rate, and re-sign him on the first day of unrestricted free agency?
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It says here he should move sooner than later to get Campbell’s name on a contract extension. Yes, he hasn’t played a heavy load – his career-high in games-played is just 31, with Los Angeles in 2018-19 – but, as the pressure on him has increased with his Leaf’s profile, Campbell has answered with confidence and strong play. When you’re under the microscope like every player is in Toronto, you either thrive from it, or you curl your lip and get out of town at the first opportunity. Right now, Campbell is thriving.
In some obvious ways, it would be a good problem to have if both Campbell and Mrazek ended this season with above-average statistics, as it would mean the team is doing well in front of both goalies. But as a GM, you can’t take leave of your senses and spend your team into a corner. You need to balance out the budget in whatever way you can.
But at the moment, you’re playing with fire when it comes to re-signing Campbell. Every game he wins, a “ch-ching” sound comes out of his agent’s office. Every time he shines, his value rises, and Toronto’s cap picture changes. Tick tock, Kyle Dubas, tick tock.