Jack Campbell, and the New Era of Dallas Stars Goaltending

Lack of quality goaltending depth has undercut the Stars since Mike Smith left town. Despite moves elsewhere in the lineup, Jack Campbell represents the best possible solution, and a return to the good old days of Roman Turek.

Last season, Dallas Stars goaltenders won 40 games. Non-Kari Lehtonen goaltenders accounted for seven of those wins. It was the same number of wins they put up during the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, and three fewer than the 10 they won in 2011-2012. Those non-Kari goaltenders included such luminaries as Andrew Raycroft, Dan Ellis, Richard Bachmann, Christopher Nilstorp, and Tim Thomas. No, not that Tim Thomas, 2014 Tim Thomas. This is not an article about any of those men. This is an article about Jack Campbell, a 22-year old prospect with exactly one NHL game under his belt. A game he lost 6-3 after posting a .872 save percentage.

Let’s start at the beginning. Campbell landed in Dallas via the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (a potentially fantastic year for big D should Nemeth and/or Klingberg find their way to the big club permanently, by the way). He was the 11th overall pick, a product of the Joe Nieuwendyk regime, and at the time an interesting selection. Interesting because of a trade that netted Kari Lehtonen at the close of the 2009-2010 season. At the time Lehtonen was a notable injury risk, but he was also just 27 years old, a 2nd pick in his own right, and had shown flashes of brilliance throughout his four year career as an Atlanta Thrasher. There was a strong sense that, away from such a woeful organization, he could be fixed.

The Campbell selection was odder still given the state of Dallas’ defense. The Jeff Woywitka defense, for those of you far enough out of therapy to reminisce. After falling to 23rd in goals against, all signs pointed to Dallas picking another young American: Cam Fowler. Fowler had size, and had just scored a point per game in Windsor. There was also some expectation he could contribute immediately, which made him seem like the obvious pick. Only he wasn’t. Dallas picked Campbell and sent him back to juniors, the young Duck played 76 games as a 19-year old rookie, and has been a fixture ever since.

That’s an awful lot about other players, but when discussing Jack Campbell’s place in the Stars organization, context is critical. He was a big swing by a team in transition. As GM Joe approached that offseason, Jere Lehtinen retired, Marty Turco was not re-signed, and Mike Modano was preparing to don the Winged Wheel. To pick a goaltender with other, more pressing needs could only be a sign the Stars had absolute faith in the young American stopper.

At the time, it felt a little bit like putting money away for a new house while the roof on the old one began to collapse. The way the next few years unfolded has done little to change that opinion. Which means Campbell sort of has to be it, doesn’t he? Otherwise, every shift Fowler takes and every game Dantopher Thomstorpcroft costs the team are shots to the gut.

To me, the Campbell pick was an attempt to re-establish the model that brought Dallas its first Stanley Cup. Find a starter you could trust, but ensure always there was someone else not just in the pipeline, but ready to step into an actual NHL role. Eddie Belfour was king, obviously, but Roman Turek won a Jennings Trophy, finished 2nd in Vezina voting and 6th in Hart voting the year he left Dallas for the St. Louis Blues. Outside of a brutal 2001-2002 campaign, Manny Fernandez gave Minnesota excellent goaltending across six seasons, and when the time came, Marty Turco ascended ably to the Dallas goaltending throne. Those were the Stars teams Joe played for, and it makes sense those would be the Stars teams he would seek to recreate. Those days were certainly less stressful.

Thus far, Campbell seems like he’s on track to meet those lofty expectations. After a 12 game teaser in 2011-2012, he joined the Texas Stars for good to start the 2012-2013 season. In his first full season, Campbell posted a perfectly respectable .905 save percentage, a 2.62 goals against average and won 19 games. Then it got better. In full on "Captain Zero" mode, Campbell went 12-2-2 last season with a .942 save percentage and a 1.49 goals against average. Only a late-season injury seemed to be able to get in his way.

This year, despite other attempts to shore up the spot behind Kari, there’s a strong sense Campbell is expected to make the leap. I, for one, hope he does. I hope Campbell is able to shake off the injury bug, play about half of the AHL season, and then move to Dallas as Kari’s understudy. Note that I did not say backup. Kari is incredible, and I hope he continues to be incredible for the foreseeable future. Maybe he’ll even be incredible long enough for Phillippe Desrosiers to push his way into the goaltending conversation. Just like Eddie’s ongoing brilliance made Turek expendable, and then Fernandez. That would turn Campbell into one heckuva trade chip, wouldn’t it? 1999 or Mike Smith for Brad Richards II, I’m happy either way.