Photo credit:Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Ilya Samsonov is entering make-or-break territory in Toronto
By Shane Seney1 month ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in Columbus to faceoff against the Blue Jackets in game #33 of their 2023-24 season and for Ilya Samsonov, it may be the most important game of his season.
The 26-year-old netminder has been driving the struggle bus of late and has essentially lost all confidence in his game. Either mental or technical, it doesn’t matter if you dive into all the advanced analytics or just use your eye test, it’s obvious Samsonov isn’t comfortable in the crease at the moment.
On the season, the Russian goaltender has posted a 5-2-5 record along with a 3.79 GAA and .871 SV.%, meanwhile lately it’s been extremely tough to watch as Samsonov has allowed at least four goals in four of his last five starts. From looking over at the bench after every goal allowed to trying to duck cameras once pulled from the game, it’s troubling times for the Maple Leafs opening night starter.
Struggles Put Maple Leafs in Tough Spot
Samsonov is looking to get his game back on track in Columbus on Friday and if things don’t go as planned, Leafs GM Brad Treliving will have some major decisions to make. Toronto is heading for California after their back-to-back this weekend and also play back-to-back next week against Los Angeles and Anaheim. It’s likely after these two sets of games the organization will make an executive decision on Samsonov’s immediate future.
Joseph Woll isn’t expected back for another month or so from his high ankle sprain and should Samsonov not win either of his next two starts, the team could send him down to the AHL. Assuming he clears waivers, Samsonov would then get some run with the Marlies and try to once again find his groove. After winning 27 games last season and setting career highs in almost every category, it’s been quite the fall from grace this season.
The Maple Leafs have their top goaltending prospect Dennis Hildeby shining in the AHL, however because it’s his first season in North America, the organization would much prefer to keep him on their development schedule, starting for the Marlies instead of sitting on the bench in the NHL.
Toronto doesn’t play another back-to-back in January after the first week in California so essentially they could give the ball to Martin Jones and let him run with it until Woll returns. Perhaps one start for Hildeby along the way, to get a small taste of NHL action but they absolutely cannot overdue it.
Goalie Trade is Complicated to Say the Least
With limited cap space, a need for defensemen and their starting netminder injured, but coming back at some point, Treliving is in a tough spot to make a goalie trade. Moving Samsonov and his $3.5 million contract in the trade is even tougher considering how bad he’s playing. The Leafs GM may have to sweeten the pot with a mid-round pick or one of the team’s better prospects not named Fraser Minten or Easton Cowan.
As for Samsonov, his start in Columbus should feel like a playoff game for him as the pressure is on to perform. The Maple Leafs are going to have no choice but to go to another route if he cannot deliver. With the parody in the Eastern Conference, Toronto cannot afford to let their goaltender try to figure out their game in live action. The Leafs need points or else things are going to get very interesting.
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