Red Wings Could Have Elite AHL Goalie Tandem with Campbell & Cossa

The Hockey Writers

In the aftermath of the chaos that ensued when the NHL’s free agency period opening up, there has been a lot of chatter about what Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman did and didn’t do. While we can certainly debate the effect his free agent signings will have on the NHL roster in 2024-25, there is one signing flying a little bit under the radar. That, of course, is the signing of goaltender Jack Campbell to a one-year, league-minimum deal.

Red Wings fans are probably most familiar with Campbell from his time with Detroit’s division rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs, from 2020 to 2022. He’s a Port Huron native that is familiar with the hockey culture across the state of Michigan. As excited as he likely is to come home, fans should be just as excited about what he could bring the Red Wings organization.

But nobody should be as excited about the addition of Campbell as Sebastian Cossa, the Red Wings’ top goalie prospect and Campbell’s presumed tandem mate this season.

Campbell’s Journey

Campbell’s name has been out there for a while now. The Dallas Stars made him the 11th pick of the 2010 draft, and it wasn’t until the 2013-14 season that he made his NHL debut. He allowed six goals in his lone start with the Stars, and then he spent the next two seasons in a weird purgatory state as Dallas stuck with Kari Lehtonen and others in goal. In June of 2016, Campbell was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, and it’s there that he started to find his groove.

Related: Red Wings’ Projected Depth Chart for 2024-25

After reasserting himself in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Ontario Reign, the Kings would officially elevate Campbell to their backup role in the 2018-19 season. Finally given a chance to shine in the NHL, he posted the best numbers of any goalie that played for the Kings that season. After looking just average the following season, the Kings made the decision to trade him (and winger Kyle Clifford) to the Maple Leafs in exchange for a prospect and a pair of third round picks.

Campbell’s stretch with the Maple Leafs remains the most successful of his career, and it represents the ceiling of what he could provide for the Red Wings this season. In 77 games across two full seasons and part of another, he had a 51-14-9 record, a 2.50 goals-against average (GAA), seven shutouts and a save-percentage (SV%) of .916. He was a stabilizing force for Toronto when they needed one, and that paved the way for the Edmonton Oilers to throw a lot of money at him when he became a free agent in 2022.

Jack Campbell Edmonton Oilers
Jack Campbell, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When the Oilers signed him to a five-year, $25 million contract, the expectation was that Campbell would be a stabilizing force in Edmonton just like he was for the Maple Leafs. Instead, his stat line with the Oilers looks like it was plucked straight out of the 1980s: a 22-13-4 record, a 3.53 GAA, and a .886 SV% The situation got so ugly that the Oilers waived the veteran in November 2023 and subsequently assigned him to the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL. In 33 games at that level, he posted a 18-13-1 record, a 2.63 GAA and a .918 SV%, affirming that he can still stop the puck, just maybe not in a premier role.

Overall he has a career NHL record of 93-52-18, a 2.76 GAA, and a .909 SV% in 176 games.

That brings us to the 2024 offseason and his new one-year deal with the Red Wings. Due to being bought out by the Oilers, Campbell will receive $1.5 million every year until 2030, and that allowed him to sign what is ultimately a prove-it deal with his hometown team. That being said, his biggest impact likely won’t be in Detroit, it’ll be in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Best Goalie Duo in the AHL?

This past season, the Griffins had a solid goaltending duo in the aforementioned Cossa and veteran Michael Hutchinson. They helped Grand Rapids finish second in the Central Division, and Cossa became the first Griffins goalie to win a playoff round since 2017. The Red Wings were hoping that Cossa, the 15th pick of the 2021 draft, would take a meaningful step forward in his first AHL season, and becoming the Griffins’ starter down the stretch was just that: a meaningful step forward.

But with all due respect to Hutchinson, there would probably be a high level of concern around Cossa if he hadn’t been able to outperform the 34-year-old veteran. That he was able to is promising, and the overall consensus about Cossa reflects that, but the 2024-25 season is about taking the next step and pushing for starts in the NHL. Hutchinson probably wasn’t going to be able to push him to that level – Campbell will.

As he demonstrated with the Condors last season, Campbell is still more than capable as an AHL goaltender. He has been a part of pretty much every type of team, and his experience playing with teams with high expectations should come into play with Grand Rapids this season. After falling just short in the second round of the playoffs last season, the Griffins are expected to take the next step this season and push for a Western Conference championship as well as another Calder Cup banner. Campbell has won at a high level in the past, and he’ll be motivated to prove that he should still be in the NHL; if he were to emerge as one of the Red Wings’ top options in goal this season, would it really be all that surprising?

All of that is to say that Campbell won’t just roll over and cede starts to Cossa. If Cossa falters in his second AHL season, Griffins head coach Dan Watson will feel comfortable turning to Campbell. The goal for Cossa is to make sure that Watson feels just as comfortable about turning to him if Campbell enters a funk. If all goes well, the tandem of Campbell and Cossa has the potential to be one of, if not the best duo in the AHL.

Sebastian Cossa Grand Rapids Griffins
Sebastian Cossa, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jonathan Kozub / Manitoba Moose)

While fans would probably like to see Cossa receive the lion’s share of starts in Grand Rapids, we very well might see an AHL-equivalent of the Linus Ullmark/Jeremy Swayman duo that the Boston Bruins happy utilized for the last couple of seasons. Just like that tandem, Campbell and Cossa have the opportunity to form a special bond – one that could help rehabilitate Campbell’s career while also nurturing Cossa’s. Like Cossa, Campbell knows what it means to be the first goaltender taken in the draft and all the expectations that come with it. The 32-year-old’s journey towards making a name for himself in the NHL is one that the 21-year-old can learn from.

No matter where Campbell as gone, fans and teammates have always raved about what a good teammate “Soupy” is, both on the ice and in the locker room. His goal may not be to spend the rest of his career in the AHL, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make the best of the situation while he’s there. Hutchinson was an excellent resource and teammate for Cossa to rely on last season, but Campbell’s presence as a teammate and a competitor has a chance to be transformative for the young goaltender.

Security (in) Net

The Red Wings are currently projected to enter the season with Alex Lyon, a 37-year-old Cam Talbot, and Ville Husso fresh off of a season he spent most of his time on injured reserve. It would not be shocking if they eventually have to look to Grand Rapids for help in the crease. In signing Campbell, the Red Wings have given themselves a solid goalie they can call up under those circumstances. This allows Detroit to maintain control over Cossa’s debut instead of forcing him up because of an unlucky injury spree.

But even though it may look like the Red Wings’ depth chart is pretty set, it feels like they have positioned themselves to roster the three (yes, three) best goalies. After waiving and demoting Alex Nedeljkovic and his $3 million contract two seasons ago, Yzerman showed that he’s willing to do whatever he deems necessary to roster a competitive roster.

Both Campbell and Cossa will enter training camp with their sights set on an NHL roster spot. Cossa would have to look like an absolute monster to force his way onto the NHL roster, for better or worse. However, Campbell could very well finish in the top-three when the Red Wings make their final roster cuts. After how things ended with the Oilers, he’ll be plenty motivated to prove that he can still be the goalie he was with the Maple Leafs. Plans can always change, especially in an offseason where there has reportedly already been a trade that fell through, and another free agent that the organization may or may not have intended to sign.

But if, as the depth chart seems to dictate, the Griffins do have a tandem of Campbell and Cossa this season, it probably stands as the best in franchise history. If Cossa is going to be earning NHL consideration at this time next year, earning more starts than Campbell this season is a good way to get there. That is the ultimate end-goal of this move: elevate Cossa.

If they can elevate each other, however, they’ll elevate the Griffins in the process.

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