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5 questions for Ilya Samsonov this season

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Shane Seney
8 months ago
Welcome back to another edition of “5 Questions”. Recently, we have explored questions surrounding captain John Tavares, along with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. For today’s piece, we visit the crease of the Toronto Maple Leafs and zone in on projected number one starter Ilya Samsonov.
The 26-year-old goaltender is set for a big season in Toronto and there’s certainly going to be a giant spotlight on the Leafs’ crease in 2023-24. Here’s five questions for Samsonov heading into this season:

Can he be a true number one?

Samsonov’s career high is 44 appearances, which he hit a couple of seasons ago with the Washington Capitals, so it’s certainly a valid question. He’s shown flashes of brilliance and last season some consistent stretches of above average goaltending, but can ‘Sammy’ carry the load for the Leafs?
We’re talking 55-60 starts and 35-40 wins, these are the types of numbers a true number one puts up. It’s yet to be seen if Samsonov can flourish with more work load and his last appearance in the preseason against the Detroit Red Wings was nothing to write home about.
Hopefully for the Maple Leafs and their fans, the answer to this question is ‘absolutely yes’. Toronto needs Samsonov to be a capable number one to limit the pressure and expectations put on Joseph Woll.

Will he lose the net to Joseph Woll?

Speaking of Woll, he’s going to push Samsonov for minutes this season. Head coach Sheldon Keefe has shown he trusts Woll enough to start him in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a rookie and now heading into a new season, there’s a chance both goalies are given some run at points of the year.
Woll’s known to be a streaky goalie and if he gets hot, there’s a legitimate chance Samsonov watches from the bench for an extended period of time. They’ll likely start Samsonov in the number one role, but if things go south the team shouldn’t hesitate to give his rookie counterpart a decent look.

Can Samsonov just tend the goal?

When Samsonov gets out of his crease to play the puck, the entire arena holds their breath. It’s not pretty and sometimes it’s not effective at all:
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After the Leafs’ victory over the Red Wings, Keefe admitted there’s a lot of things Samsonov needs to tighten up before the season starts next week. Staying in his crease more and picking his spots is something that’s on the list, along with holding on to his goal stick. Too many times both have become issues, and frankly they can’t be. Samsonov needs to be sharper and it starts by staying in his crease more and holding on to all of his much-needed equipment.

What does his next contract look like?

When Brad Treliving joined the Maple Leafs as the team’s new GM, Samsonov’s contract was one of the first orders of business. The Leafs netminder was a restricted free agent and Treliving was able to get him signed to a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
Samsonov is now a pending unrestricted free agent and can hit the open market on July 1, 2024. It’s going to be a wait-and-see approach when it comes to the extension offered by Treliving this season. There’s little doubt the two sides will chat at parts of this season to see what both sides are thinking for term and average annual value.
As Samsonov will be 27 when his current contract is up, a four or five-year deal would probably make the most sense should an extension happen. It’s rare to see goalies sign for the max of eight years and that won’t be the case here. My early prediction would be a four-year deal at $6 million per season. He will probably need to win 35 games and post a save percentage higher than .915 to spark Treliving’s interest in doing something long term.

Can he handle adversity in Toronto?

It’s been mostly smooth sailing for Samsonov since he arrived in Toronto, besides battling some minor injuries. He won a career high 27 games last season and while also posting career highs with a 2.33 goals against average and a .919 Sv.%. What happens if things don’t go as planned?
One thing I love about Samsonov is his personality and care-free attitude, which perfectly suits the Toronto media. He’s a bit quirky and his sense of humour was great for him to break the ice with all the coverage surrounding his game. I’d be curious to see what happens when things hit the fan and nothing seems to be going right, and maybe things start going right for Woll?
There we have it folks, another rendition of ‘5 Questions’. Samsonov is going to start the season as the Leafs number one, but we’ll have to wait and see how long that lasts. If things go south, is ‘Sammy’ capable of being a supportive #2 should Woll take the net? Time will tell, because there’s certainly going to be ample opportunity for both Maple Leaf goaltenders to shine this season in Toronto.

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