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In (mild) defence of Samsonov, Domi’s icetime, and the roster freeze countdown: Leaflets

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
2 months ago
The Maple Leafs are presently sitting 6th in the league when it comes to points percentage and tied for 6th in the league in points, all on the strength of their love of playing extra time this season. On the surface things are looking pretty darn good and in the past years things have been treated that way but given that top ten in the league and second or third in the Atlantic is pretty much an automatic for the Maple Leafs, I think demanding a bit more or at least something different doesn’t seem like a bad thing. There is something uniquely broken with the Maple Leafs and while I doubt that gets explored in season, you’d hope someone within the organization is a little curious about why they can’t take a step forward.

Samsonov is…an adventure

I guess I can’t just talk about how the Maple Leafs need to do something different and they need to improve and then give Ilya Samsonov a complete pass, so I won’t. As much as excuses can be made because of the Leafs blueline for Samsonov struggling a little more this season, Thursday night’s 5-0 deficit hangs on Samsonov to a large degree. We are also one week removed from Samsonov having a shutout, so let’s not forget that there is some upside and opportunity for improvement as well. There’s also little likelihood that the Leafs are going to make an in season move that allows them to upgrade from Samsonov, so the best-case scenario is that Joseph Woll is ready to be the 1A of the tandem and when Samsonov is called upon, he is capable of being that average or better 2 out of 3 times.
The other thing to consider with Samsonov is that he is an unrestricted free agent this summer and his inconsistency is something that will likely lead to Toronto letting him pursue an opportunity elsewhere. The Maple Leafs don’t seem to be in his future and perhaps moving on from him earlier is an opportunity for the Leafs as there plenty of teams looking for a goaltender and the Leafs could certainly benefit from working with the increased cap space that jettisoning Samsonov would afford. That is perhaps putting a lot on Martin Jones to be serviceable for extended stretches and putting a lot of trust in Treliving that he could find another affordable depth option. Not to mention crossing a lot of fingers that Woll can be healthy the rest of the way.
Samsonov still looks like the best short-term option for the Leafs, but perhaps we’ll see more of Jones and give him an opportunity to complicate the situation.
In the long term for the Leafs there is still the looming question of “who will be the Leafs next great goaltender and is that really the missing piece for this team?” There have a number of adequate starters and the Colorado Avalanche have proven that adequate might be all some teams need to win the Stanley Cup, but a dominant starter has alluded the Leafs. The best Toronto could hope for is that they have a netminder who gets hot at the right time and with three NHL options in Woll, Samsonov, and Jones, you can at least credit Treliving for stocking up on lottery tickets. Unless Toronto plans on landing a true #1, keeping Samsonov as part of their gamble remains the best option and hopefully they can continue to add time between his truly bad starts.

Domi’s declining icetime

Against Columbus Max Domi played over 14 minutes for the first time in 13 games. Considering that he is the third line centre and the amount of those games that have gone to overtime, it’s certainly low utilization of the $3M forward. The minus 2 for Domi against the Blue Jackets certainly will be noticed by the Leafs coaching staff as well and the fact that his line was noticeably absent from the comeback might be a sign that the Leafs are in the need for another roster shuffle.
Given that Nick Robertson has shown some promise it would be interesting to see if he gets some brief consideration in the top six, albeit in a sheltered capacity. At the same time, Calle Jarnkrok might be a good player to help balance the less sheltered workload that Robertson would have with that assignment while potentially making Calle a good fit with Noah Gregor and David Kampf on a line that could be utilized more regularly as well.
As for Domi, he might be sliding into more a specialist type role for the Leafs. He’s a fit for the second power play unit, not too shabby on faceoffs, but ultimately a fourth liner who gets moved up for situational deployment.
Domi’s best numbers often coincide with him being a centre and honestly the Leafs should probably keep in that role as they need the depth and security he provides, but it is also important to note that Domi’s best seasons come when he is able to play elevated roles on bad teams and hasn’t thrived on better teams that push him down the lineup as his numbers in Carolina and Dallas (regular season) show.
Max also might be held back by the lack of injuries to the top six forward group. As someone who could line up at any forward position part of the plan for Domi might have been to be moved up as necessary and as such the Leafs might need to force an opportunity for him in the top six in the future. With Marner playing with Tavares at the moment, there is an opportunity for Domi’s playmaking to benefit Auston Matthews and William Nylander on the top line, while he could also prove capable of producing some of the pestiness the line enjoyed last year with Michael Bunting. It’s probably the preferred solution from Domi’s perspective but ignores the fact that Matthew Knies hasn’t done anything to lose that spot and is the long term option Toronto is hoping for as well.

Roster freeze: Another player to replace

With the announcement that Ryan Reaves is about to miss some significant time there is another vacancy/potentially $1.35M of LTIR cap relief that could become available to the Maple Leafs to work with. It’s an interesting situation and one that opens the Leafs up to considering their needs in their forward group as well as their pressing blueline needs.
While it is unlikely that the Leafs do anything before Wednesday’s holiday roster freeze on the trade front, it will be interesting to see whether Toronto brings in another forward to rotate in and out of the lineup with Bobby McMann or if the plan is to give him a bit more of an extended run/go with 7D from time to time.
Alex Steeves is always the most intriguing option, but both Nick Abruzzese and Dylan Gambrell could be worth a look too. There is also the possibility that the Leafs organization is truly valuing the enforcer role and we see Kyle Clifford in the near future.
If the Leafs go the trade route when it comes to forwards the hope should be that they aren’t simply looking to fill a fourth line role. It still feels as if the 3rd line centre role or top six LW spots are the pressing need. None of that is likely to be addressed by the roster freeze time but seems like it will be an all-consuming topic once the New Year rolls around.
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