If the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to go anywhere in this year’s playoffs, the organization needs to get something ingrained in their brains and figure out a way to ensure they don’t change their minds, outside of an injury that gives them no choice. Head coach Sheldon Keefe needs to play backup goaltender Petr Mrazek as often as possible, before reaching a 50/50 split with starter Jack Campbell.
Related: Three Takeaways from Maple Leafs 3-1 Win Over the Islanders
Mrazek got the nod for the Maple Leafs on Saturday and looked good in a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders. It was a bounce-back game for the Leafs after their coach called them out for being too soft in a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers a couple of days earlier and it was a nice break for Campbell, who let in five goals on 26 shots for a .808 save percentage.
While $3.8 million on the bench is not ideal, the money isn’t the primary reason Mrazek needs to play more. Resting Campbell is. The pending UFA has played 29 games this season which puts him in the top 10 for games played and most of that was because Mrazek was hurt and there weren’t great options otherwise. But, with Mrazek now back, Toronto needs to take advantage of the fact that they can split starts evenly between the two netminders, running the rest of the season that way, unless, of course, Mrazek gets hurt.
In other words, just because Campbell has been good, it doesn’t mean he will continue to be if Keefe tires him out. This is the most games the goaltender has ever played in a season outside of one stint in Los Angeles where he was great but played two games more than he’s played to date in 2021-22.
Toronto needs to resist the urge to ride the hot hand unless that hot hand is Mrazek. In that case, the Maple Leafs should count their lucky stars they have two decent options available. Steve Dangle noted on the sdpn podcast show this week, “He’s got to play two-of-three.” He added, “You have to make a conscious effort to sit Campbell and that’s going to be a difficult conversation with Sheldon Keefe because coaches want to win.” Dangle went as far as to suggest the Leafs have to be alright with lowering their odds to win games by even playing Joseph Woll or find another option. “They have to rest Jack or it’s all for nothing,” he argues.
There Are Other Reasons to Sit Campbell
Beyond resting Campbell and making sure he’s primed and ready for a stretch run, playing Mrazek not only gets him ready for the playoffs but it showcases the netminder in the event Toronto wants to take a big swing before the NHL trade deadline. One of the ways the Leafs might clear cap space is by moving the backup’s salary cap hit and going with a less expensive option. The best way to ensure teams come calling is by playing him and letting him prove he’s a good gamble.
At the same time, every game Campbell doesn’t play is one less game in which he ups his value as a free agent. He’ll be worth a pretty penny anyways — some are estimating around $6 million or more per season on a long-term deal — but the Leafs don’t need additional reasons to make him the hottest free agent on the market.
If the Leafs play Campbell down the stretch, essentially ignoring Mrazek, and Campbell plays as well as he’s been playing this season, the Leafs won’t be able to afford to keep him.
Next: Rangers Have Significant Offer on Table For Jakob Chychrun
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