It was the trade the Toronto Maple Leafs had to make – and now we wait to see if they made it in time.
With their playoff odds dwindling and goaltending a particular sore spot, the Leafs acquired Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for utility forward Trevor Moore and a pair of draft selections.
In Campbell, Toronto gets a netminder whose career arc has been dramatic, to say the least. A world junior hero for Team USA in 2010 and the highest-drafted goalie of the past decade (11th overall to Dallas that same summer), Campbell struggled to find his game after the initial hype, putting up mediocre numbers in the OHL and even playing a part in Kyle Dubas’ origin story when the nascent Sault Ste. Marie GM traded for the big-name Campbell, only to see his Greyhounds collapse and miss the OHL playoffs altogether.
But eventually, Campbell found his game in the minors and even helped the AHL Texas Stars win a Calder Cup in 2014, serving as backup to veteran Cristopher Nihlstorp (though Campbell made four post-season appearances himself during the run).
A step back after that saw the charismatic kid do a couple bids in the ECHL, followed by a trade to Los Angeles. That’s when Campbell found his form once again and since then, he’s been pretty good at both the AHL and NHL levels. In fact, last year he was the Kings’ best netminder, rocking a .928 save percentage in 31 games while franchise legend Jonathan Quick struggled through injury and inconsistency.
While Campbell’s numbers are down this year, the Kings have also been worse than last year and he’s still statistically better than Quick. Campbell has the size and the game-stealing ability to give the Leafs an upgrade on Michael Hutchinson and Campbell has played enough that he can hypothetically hold the fort if Frederik Andersen’s neck injury lingers.
In Clifford, Toronto gets something they haven’t had in a while: a bruiser. Should the Leafs make the playoffs, Clifford is the type of guy who will go toe-to-toe with any Boston Bruin that comes calling (and let’s face it – fate will have these two teams meet again if Toronto gets in) and he’s good enough to take a regular bottom-six shift otherwise. On top of that, the tough left winger has two Stanley Cup rings from the early days of his Los Angeles career – one in a minor role, one as a regular.
The cost for these players was not high for Toronto. While Moore is a fine player, the Leafs are not lacking in forwards and he was expendable in that sense.
The two draft selections are the steeper part of the trade. The 2020 third-rounder originally belonged to Columbus and the 2021 pick is a third-rounder that becomes a second if Clifford re-signs or the Leafs make the playoffs this year and Campbell wins six games. However, due to previous trades, Toronto currently has just one guaranteed top-100 pick in the 2020 draft – a second-round selection. Otherwise, the other eight picks are clustered in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds. The team’s first-rounder in 2020 is also conditionally gone, courtesy the Patrick Marleau trade; if the Leafs get a top-10 pick (possible but not probable), they get to keep it and Carolina gets Toronto’s 2021 first-rounder instead. Just something to keep in mind down the stretch.
For a team with obvious deficiencies that was rocked by key injuries at the worst time, Toronto needs a lot to go right if the post-season is going to become a reality. Campbell increases their odds slightly by virtue of not being Hutchinson, while Clifford will help them even more if the team qualifies. It’s gonna be a nail-biter.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.