Joseph Woll’s promising rookie season hindered by multiple injuries

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
1 month ago
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Goaltending has always been an area of uncertainty with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since the beginning of the Matthews-Marner-Nylander era, 16 goalies under NHL contract have played at least one game for the franchise, with a bulk of those starts coming from Frederik Andersen, Jack Campbell and Ilya Samsonov over the past eight seasons.
But it’s not just Toronto who can’t seem to nail the goaltending position. Many teams are in the same boat and have gone through their fair share of goalies because only a small group of goalies fit into the elite category.
Many goaltenders have come and gone in this organization — especially over the last decade-plus – but what the Maple Leafs have right now has the potential to be very special.
Joseph Woll, taken 62nd overall in the 2016 Draft, made his NHL debut in the 2021-22 season, going 3-1-0, posting a .911 save percentage and a 2.76 GAA. A season later, Woll still didn’t have much of a role between the pipes for the Maple Leafs but was able to play in seven games,  posting another excellent record of 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage and 2.16 GAA.
Heading into the 2023-24 season, Woll was primed for a significant role. After the Maple Leafs lost Matt Murray to injury, Woll was pencilled in as the confirmed backup to Ilya Samsonov, who had an excellent 2022-23 season as well, and the duo had the potential to replicate their success from the previous season.

Injury halted Woll’s excellent first half

Unfortunately, 2023-24 was quite the rollercoaster ride for Toronto’s goaltenders. Following a career year in 2022-23, Samsonov earned a raise ($3.55M) from the $1.8M he made in his prove-it-year the season prior. He undoubtedly deserved that raise, but one year was all he got after he and Toronto went to arbitration.
In hindsight, it’s a blessing in disguise that the two sides went to arbitration and didn’t commit to a long-term contract. Samsonov’s season was a weird one that we may never see again. From posting career-highs in games started, wins, save percentage, and goals against average, he had a rocky start to the season, posting a horrid .862 save percentage through the first 15 games, entering dubious, historic company.
Samsonov was eventually placed on waivers, went unclaimed, and had a reset before returning to the big club, turning his season around.
With all of the drama surrounding Samsonov’s play, this led to a significant development in Woll’s playing time. He went from playing a combined 11 games from 2021-22 to 2022-23 to becoming the team’s starter, with veteran Martin Jones as the backup goalie in Samsonov’s absence.
Between starting as the backup goalie to transitioning into the starter, Woll deserved every start with his play.
Woll was more than a serviceable goaltender for Toronto through his first 15 games of the season. During his second start in December, he went down with a lower-body injury, which was later revealed as a high-ankle sprain and  was sidelined for nearly three months. Jones was elevated into the starting role did everything the team could’ve asked him to do and more. He essentially saved the Maple Leafs’ season entering the new year.

A second half to forget

Woll eventually returned to the team in late February, but he wasn’t the same goalie we saw in the first two months. After posting a .916 save percentage and 2.80 GAA through his first 15 games, he recorded just four wins in 10 games, posting an .890 save percentage and 3.14 GAA as the team entered the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.
With Woll’s play down the stretch of the regular season, Samsonov was awarded the starting role for the first round of the playoffs. Samsonov wasn’t the main problem that the Leafs were trailing 3-1 in the series, but after Sheldon Keefe went to Woll as the starter for Games 5 and 6, Toronto had a chance to win those games from puck drop to final whistle.
It’s unfortunate how Woll’s season ended. He suffered the aforementioned high-ankle sprain, which sidelined him for a bulk of the season and at times, didn’t appear to be at his best. Woll jumped into the crease when called upon in the playoffs, and with less than a second to go in Game 6, with Toronto leading 2-0, Woll suffered an injury trying to make a last-second desperation save, which knocked him out of the lineup for Game 7.
This isn’t the first season Woll has gone through injuries. He has previously missed time in the AHL and it’s something that may be monitored closely throughout his career.

2024-25 is a pivotal season for Woll and the Maple Leafs

Woll is the only goalie in the organization under contract who has NHL experience. He will be primed for a prominent role as the presumptive starter, barring any major transactions. It’s contingent upon his health whether he can remain the bona fide No. 1 starter
Joshua Kloke of The Athletic reported last week that Jones is open to a return to the Maple Leafs after signing a one-year deal late in the summer last year. James Mirtle of The Athletic also threw out a juicy nugget about the Maple Leafs and a specific goalie set to become a UFA.
“I think they are going to get a tandem goaltender as opposed to a big name,” Mirtle said. “Someone like Laurent Brossoit, who was the backup in Winnipeg this year, will be a target for the Leafs.”
(Stats from hockey-reference.com)

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