What exactly does David Kampf do for the Maple Leafs?

Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
22 days ago
What does David Kampf do? The short answer is “frustrate you when overtime starts.” Given that we’re switching into playoff mode soon and 3 on 3 faceoff Kampf can’t hurt you anymore I’m going to attempt to expand on that answer.
In the grand spirit of finding fault with players in what is generally a pretty strong roster, I have once again turned my focus to David Kampf. I’d say that if the source of your rage is a 4th line centre, the team you are looking at is in pretty good shape and that is largely true for the Maple Leafs, but there is a qualifier to that. Despite the Holmberg line being very much what people want to consider the third line for the Maple Leafs, the time-on-ice situation points to David Kampf actually being the 3C, and when you consider that he’s the go-to penalty killer for Sheldon Keefe as well as a bit of a face-off specialist, the deployment of David Kampf is at the very least worth talking about a little since the reality of the situation is this isn’t the first year he’s been an issue.
So let’s talk David Kampf, and for the purpose of this post, we’ll also leave his contract out of it as it doesn’t have any bearing on the playoffs which are the only thing that matters from a Leafs perspective at this point.
Given that I know I’ll lose a lot of you the second I put a graph or a table in this post I’m going to try and start with the eye test assessment of Kampf, and I’ll do so with a few qualifying reasons for why Kampf has struggled. The first thing with Kampf is that he is not a physical player, he just gets tasked with centring physical players. This is something that hasn’t really worked for him, especially since his best hockey came with big, speedy, shot suppressors like Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall. You can also point to a physical player working well with him before in Ondrej Kase, but Kase had some other things going for him. He too was a strong puck controller and being a lifelong friend of Kampf and frequent teammate, there was a good chance that they knew how to work well together. Being able to speak Czech instead of English to a linemate probably helped too.
Since the Mikheyev-Kampf-Kase line that has led to all future iterations we’ve seen Kampf struggle to do okay with Alex Kerfoot and Calle Jarnkrok, but ultimately both of those players played their way up in the lineup and away from Kampf who then wound up playing primarily with players like Noah Gregor, Zach Aston-Reese, Ryan Reaves, Connor Dewar, Noel Acciari, Sam Lafferty, and Denis Malgin. There were also pit stops for guys like Pontus Holmberg and Bobby McMann who made a case for themselves elsewhere in the lineup as well. Kampf gets stuck with the fourth-line checkers and doesn’t have the ability to get the most out of the better players he’s had with him like McMann, Lafferty, or Jarnkrok and eventually the coach wants to try them elsewhere.
Worse players equaling worse results for Kampf is a bit obvious but comes back to the issue. Since Kampf isn’t much of a line driver and isn’t going to make players like Gregor, Dewar, or Reaves better, what is the point of having him in the lineup?
The penalty kill. That seems to be the point of David Kampf, which is the idea of having to suffer through having a bad 5v5 player in your lineup just to hopefully have them not suck on the penalty kill seems like you are committing to a shorthanded lineup all night.
The idea that Kampf is a competent penalty killer is tied heavily into the fact that he is stapled to Mitch Marner when Marner is healthy, and the duo has provided the Leafs with many memorable shorthanded moments and last season had results that warranted giving it another go this year. The dose of reality is that while Marner has been away for much of March, the Leafs penalty kill has been exposed as one of the worst in the NHL. Kampf has been a big part of that and given that his fallback partner in Jarnkrok is also away, Kampf has been spending a lot of time with Connor Dewar, a strong penalty killer when he was with the Wild, and it has not gone well. The question can probably be raised whether it’s worthwhile to keep Kampf in the lineup solely because with Marner they might catch lightning in a bottle and get results again, or does it make sense for the Leafs to explore a penalty kill without Kampf given that Marner, Jarnkrok, Dewar, Gregor, Holmberg, McMann, and even Matthews and Nylander are capable of stepping in if needed.
Heading into the playoffs it is also worth reflecting on how things didn’t go well for Kampf last spring. Despite the addition of Ryan O’Reilly to the lineup which led to easier assignments for Kampf, by every metric, he had a bad time. Playing primarily with Sam Lafferty, and either Zach Aston-Reese or Alex Kerfoot against what was essentially bottom-six competition, the Leafs were outshot, out-chanced, and outscored with Kampf on the ice. The downslide that started last season continued into the playoffs and hasn’t gone away this year.
So where does that leave the Leafs? Where does that leave Kampf?
Sheldon Keefe has already sheltered Kampf a lot more than we’ve seen in previous seasons. There has been no attempt to utilize him as a 5v5 option and if it wasn’t for Reaves, Domi, Robertson, and Holmberg, Kampf would be sheltered even more than he is as against top-line options. The thing is, some of those guys like Domi and Robertson at least see a bit more time against middle-six competition, and Keefe’s trust in Holmberg is growing there too. Kampf is primarily facing the bottom 50 percentile in ice time forwards and not doing that particularly well. The utilization might come with the 4C deployment but the results being that poor for Kampf are the concern and what the Leafs organization needs to reflect on.
Here’s where it gets a little interesting for Kampf and that is with the return of Marner and Jarnkrok looming. Given that a Knies-Holmberg-Robertson line (if it stays intact) is probably the line the Leafs would want to shelter the most and Keefe is already begun giving Kampf increased ice time through February and March, it seems likely that Kampf could see some third-line calibre linemates to help him out and that reduce the need for him to carry a line. Getting Jarnkrok as a linemate seems like a given, but it also seems that one of Domi, Bertuzzi, Nylander, or McMann will join him and that could give Kampf a chance to see how if he can still hang in a top 9 situation.
That scenario doesn’t account for Connor Dewar, who the Leafs will likely be trying to fit in and could/should probably see some reps as a centre down the stretch to see if he is the better alternative to Kampf for a centre position. Dewar brings a physical element to the game that makes up for his shortcomings when the rest of his game isn’t going his way and Kampf really lacks that second dimension. For the most part, it seems that experience and the injuries throughout the Leafs lineup are what have prevented Kampf from seeing the press box more than he has this season.
It also seems likely that Kampf will at least get a few more looks with Marner on the penalty kill and that will decide to what extent Kampf is to blame for the PK struggles before facing Florida or Boston powerplays that seem likely to expose the Leafs shorthanded issues.
As I said, there are excuses that can be made for Kampf. Linemates are one of them and that has resulted in him driving play when he’s not capable of it. There has been a shift in the team defence and penalty kill approaches and those are primarily going to be done in a manner that supports the defencemen, not necessarily a defensive forward, that shift could be enough to no longer make him the fit he once was.
Whether the blame sits with Kampf or elsewhere the result is the same and that is he hasn’t been effective. Heading into the playoffs with him in the press box needs to be a real consideration as everyone else seems to have a purpose they are delivering on.
Now to bring it full circle and finally bring salary back into it, David Kampf is very much in a situation where he should be trying to show his value to the Leafs (assuming he wants to stay.) Already Kampf has young centres in Holmberg and Dewar making a case for his job and the Leafs could very well deploy Max Domi at centre as well to cut Kampf out of the playoff picture. Throw in the fact that Toronto will have Fraser Minten once again competing for a bottom-six centre job next season and all of Dewar, Holmberg, and Minten will be cheaper options that could push the $2.4M AAV contract to the curb (although the Leafs will certainly be paying someone to pick it up.)
By shot, shot attempt, goal, and expected goal differentials, Kampf should be a scratch. It’s just doubtful Keefe sees it the same way.
Data from NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick

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