David Kampf is a fine bottom-six forward but overpaid for what he provides

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Mazzei
15 days ago
David Kampf is fresh off the first campaign of the four-year extension he signed with the Leafs last summer. With that new deal comes heightened expectations for what he can bring on a nightly basis and suffice it to say that his reputation among fans has started to sour a bit because of his new cap hit of $2.4 million a season. On the surface, his 19 points (eight goals and 11 assists) in 78 games is about on par with what has been able to do throughout his career. But when you dig deeper into the numbers, it becomes clear that Kampf lost a step this past season and has not quite been the reliable defensive centre he had been during his first two seasons in Toronto.
For starters, Kampf’s average ice time took a noticeable dip in 2023-24 where he went from 15:18 to 13:29. A lot of it had to do with his struggles to generate consistent results as former coach Sheldon Keefe shuffled his linemates throughout the season to find a spark. We saw him at times skating alongside the likes of Noah Gregor, Ryan Reaves, Connor Dewar, and Pontus Holmberg to varying results. Keefe even attempted Kampf on the third line which was an unmitigated disaster given that the latter is not a line driver and nothing positive was being generated.
A dropoff in offensive production for a player who has not been known to pile up the points is one thing, but the regression in defensive play that Kampf was brought in to provide is another thing entirely. He looked a step behind the replay at times both at even strength and shorthanded, which was especially evident during that stretch in March where Mitch Marner sat out with a high-ankle sprain. Kampf’s inconsistent results shorthanded played a factor in why the Leafs finished 23rd in PK% during the regular season and fourth last in the postseason.
When comparing Kampf’s underlying numbers at 5v5 from the past two seasons, the drop-off this past year is certainly quite noticeable.
While the possession numbers are reflective of a player who started nearly all of his shifts in the defensive zone, the fact that some of Kampf’s offensive numbers took significant steps back is concerning. It could be a case of bad luck due to his PDO being the lowest of his career, but it is not exactly encouraging to have a defensive forward be even less productive offensively from one year to the next.
It would be easy to conclude that the best course of action with Kampf is to trade him to utilize the cap space in different areas. After all, Holmberg has taken steps in his development as a bottom-six forward and will be given more responsibilities under Craig Berube while Dewar is expected to get re-signed and help shore up the fourth line. So it would make sense theoretically speaking to move on from the bloated cap hit and make way for the younger guys to fill the void.
The issue with moving on from Kampf is despite his struggles, he still has some value to the Leafs and finding more ideal linemates can help get him back on track.
This is a guy who has been among their most dependable faceoff options as evidenced by him being used to start overtime and typically being utilized to close out games. The defensive struggles mentioned earlier are certainly not ideal, but that could be rectified if Berube can find two wingers that better complimented the Czech’s playstyle. He seems to work better when lining up with big and speedy shot suppressors such as Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev, and the dropoff in Kampf’s play was more noticeable when both players left the Leafs. Finding players just like them to fill that niche such as Alexey Toropchenko and Dakota Joshua could help rectify that problem and get more out of Kampf.
Simply put, Kampf is adequate for what he is: a fourth-line centreman who is reliable on the draw, responsible defensively and can kill penalties. The problem is his huge cap hit, which means a lot more is now expected of him which makes the regression this past season all the more concerning given he still has three more years left on his current contract.
Regardless of whether the reason for his decline is because of inconsistent linemates, the PK regressing, or something else, something was off about Kampf’s game. There is a reason why his minutes were sheltered and that he was a healthy scratch at one point. It’s no wonder why some are calling for him to be traded to make room for the younger options.
The fact of the matter is that as long as he is on the books, the Leafs will need to get more out of Kampf next season and beyond if they want to justify him making $2.4 million a season. He definitely can still be a valuable piece if given the right set of linemates, but they will be wasting their time if they once again attempt to make him a line driver when that is the furthest thing from what he is.
If they can find the right combination akin to what he had with Engvall and Mikheyev, perhaps Kampf could regain his form and this past season could be a mere blip on the radar. Until then, the calls for him to be traded won’t go away anytime soon.

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