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Ilya Samsonov’s roller-coaster season left a lot to be desired

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Photo credit:Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
22 days ago
Overall, the Toronto Maple Leafs enjoyed a very successful regular season. They finished third in the Atlantic division and once again, locked themselves into a Stanley Cup Playoff position with ease. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Ilya Samsonov’s 2023-24 season as it was full of ups, downs and a few spirals.
Samsonov entered this past season as the Maple Leafs’ starting netminder. He was coming off a career season, had a strong training camp and was given the keys to the crease for Toronto’s season opener. Little did he or the team know back in October, how much of an emotional roller coaster was to come for the Russian netminder.

Samsonov Had Troubles Finding Consistency

Let’s break Samsonov’s season down into three segments. For starters, October, November, and December were rough for the Maple Leafs goaltender, eventually leading the organization to make a very tough decision.
MonthRecordG.A.ASave %
October2-1-13.99.841
November2-0-23.18.905
December1-1-34.64.828
Of eligible goaltenders with at least 15 games played by December 31, 2023, Samsonov ranked second last in the entire NHL with a .862 Sv.%. His confidence was lacking, he wasn’t battling for pucks, and while at times his game was good enough to secure the Leafs a point, his performance night in and night out was a growing concern for the entire organization.
On New Year’s Eve, usually a night for celebration, the Maple Leafs announced they put Samsonov on waivers. The former first-rounder had hit rock bottom. Management knew they needed to figure out a quick solution with sustained impact and find a way to reset Samsonov’s game. He’d clear waivers and be given the news he was going to go through a formal ‘reset’. While he was transactionally sent down to the minors, Samsonov wasn’t going to suit up in any American Hockey League action. Instead, he’d work alongside goalie coach Curtis Sanford to fine-tune his technique, and emotionally reset himself, which included a lengthy visit from some family members from Russia. The on-ice struggles were becoming visibly emotionally draining and Brad Treliving and company knew they had to get creative to get Samsonov back on track. After a 14-day reset, it worked.

Second Half was a Much Different Story

The reset saved Samsonov’s season. After getting recalled on January 10, 2024, the Maple Leafs inserted their opening-night starter back into the lineup on January 14, exactly two weeks after they waived him and were open to potentially losing him for nothing to another organization.
Samsonov proved to the Leafs he could still get the job done. In January he got hot and carried his strong play throughout the final stages of the season. The peak of his season may have come on January 24, a night he’d shutout the Winnipeg Jets with a 32-save performance and you could tell after the game how much the Leafs’ appreciation meant to the Leafs goaltender:
While the battle continued by allowing too many weak goals, Samsonov was able to bear down and build off being reset:
MonthRecordG.A.ASave %
January3-1-01.48.939
February6-2-03.01.888
March6-1-12.34.926
April3-1-13.80.865
A tale of two seasons and while the win-loss record was not concerning, the frequency of saves still was. According to MoneyPuck.com, Samsonov finished the season with a -8.1 rating in goals saved above expected, meaning he was not stopping the pucks he should have been and the soft, deflating goals were a regular occurrence. For comparison’s sake, Winnipeg Jets’ netminder Connor Hellebuyck led the league in the category with a 33.1 rating. A 41-point gap is what Brad Treliving is talking about when he notes the amount of times the other team’s goalie outperforms Toronto’s starter.

Playoff Series Sealed Samsonov’s Fate

After finding his game in the second half of the season, unfortunately for everyone involved, Samsonov couldn’t continue to battle out wins.
The Maple Leafs were up against their bullies, the Boston Bruins in the first round and needed their netminder to shine like a diamond to have any chance. Instead, it was dark, ugly, and a gloomy five appearances for Toronto’s tender.
Samsonov finished the playoffs with a 1-4 record, along with a 3.01 GAA and .896 Sv.%. Furthermore, the goals he was allowing were as soft as could be. In the first three games, Samsonov allowed nine goals, with 33% of them coming on low-danger shot attempts:
Even with the Maple Leafs only down 2-1 in the series at the time, Samsonov’s game was becoming quite worrisome and the team’s confidence in front of him lacked. He’d start Game 4 at home, but after allowing three goals on 17 shots in the first two periods, Joseph Woll came out for the third period and stopped everything. Woll would get the start in Game 6 and carried the Maple Leafs to victory, forcing the always entertaining Game 7. And in very ‘Leafy’ fashion, Woll ended up hurting his back on the final play of Game 6, trying to preserve his shutout, and next thing you know, Samsonov was back in between the pipes, starting Game 7. The roller-coaster season continued right until the final straw as Samsonov played a strong finale, but unfortunately had a mental lapse in overtime and allowed David Pastrnak to retrieve a puck he very much could have played. He also allowed a very questionable goal with his team carrying a third-period lead. It had gone from bad to worse.
After the Maple Leafs were eliminated Samsonov spoke to the media and was very open and honest about his game:
The same could be said for Brad Treliving at the end-of-year press conference as he spent a lot of time praising Woll and mentioning the team will find a way to alter his summer training program to ensure he can stay healthy for a full season. Meanwhile, Treliving hardly spoke on Samsonov and one of the only things he did mention was the fact the 27-year-old was a pending unrestricted free agent. It became very clear on this day, that the Maple Leafs are moving on.
With Samsonov’s Leafs’ tenure likely finished, he’ll enter free agency in July with a strong chance at landing on his feet and in a situation where he can battle for a number one job. The goaltending free-agent market is paper thin with talent under 30 years old, so Samsonov will be one of the most highly coveted netminders this summer. The Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils should come calling. The Maple Leafs, however, will not.

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