Maple Leafs’ Ilya Samsonov set to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
9 months ago
After being starved of news for a few weeks now, Toronto Maple Leafs fans finally got an actual topic to discuss on Sunday.
It was announced that goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who had recently gone to arbitration with the Maple Leafs, had been re-signed to a one-year contract worth $3.55 million. The 26 year-old Russian netminder bet on himself with a one-year deal last season after the Washington Capitals elected not to qualify him, and the decision proved to pay off.
The reason the Capitals didn’t qualify Samsonov in the first place was that they didn’t feel he was worth the upwards of $3 million qualifying offer he was eligible for at the time. To be fair to them, the skepticism was understandable. At the time, he was coming off a poor season that saw him finish with a .896 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.02 goals-against-average (GAA). While he put up some decent numbers in the two seasons prior, he only played a combined 45 games during that time.
Still, considering the Capitals selected Samsonov with their first round pick in 2015, clearly with aspirations that he’d be their starting goaltender of the future, it was kind of shocking to see them part ways with him at such a young age. Either way, they didn’t feel comfortable giving him.that money and pooled it towards the signing of current goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
The deal the Magnitogorsk native signed with the Maple Leafs last summer, worth $1.8 million, proved to be of great value for the Maple Leafs. While Matt Murray had the type of season that most people expected him to, average but not great with some injury issues mixed in, Samsonov took the reins in the crease. While he had a few rough stretches of his own, a record of 27-10-5 with a GAA of 2.33 and a SV% of .919 is beyond what one should expect out of a goalie making less than two million per year.
In my opinion, the Maple Leafs made the right call not locking up Samsonov long-term after last season. Not that I necessarily thought they should have gone to arbitration with him, but my reasoning for wanting to play it safe with him likely lines up with the team’s reasoning to knock his value down to $3.55 million; the lack of a sample size.
For the most part last season, Samsonov was exactly what the Maple Leafs needed out of their starting goalie after dealing with the year-long roller coaster that was the Jack Campbell/Petr Mrazek tandem in 2021-22. Right out of the gates, when Murray suffered a groin injury ahead of just his second start, Samsonov took the full-time starting gig much sooner than he was expected to and led the team to a record of 5-2 in his next seven starts, only surrendering three or more goals in the two losses.
The consistency kept up for most of the season. He had one bad stretch towards the end of December and start of January, but most of the time he was at bare minimum giving the Maple Leafs a chance to win. Statistically, he wasn’t great in the playoffs, but what he did do was make the important saves when the team needed them most. Campbell’s .934 SV% looked great against the Montreal Canadiens during the 2021 playoffs, but that doesn’t account for the back breaking five-hole goal to Brendan Gallagher (although, the Maple Leafs probably would have lost that series either way)
With all this being said, the consistency factor doesn’t end after one year. It’s great that he was consistent for the Maple Leafs last season, but can he do it again? Can he do it to a point where Toronto, or any team for that matter, will feel comfortable signing him long term? This question right here will remain unanswered until the end of next season. After his performance in 2022-23, he’s undoubtedly a $3.55 million goalie, but the fact that last year very well may have just been a one-off is what’s preventing him from getting term.
Whatever the answer to that question ends up being, Samsonov is not shaken by the arbitration process, according to agent Don Meehan, and is eager to get back to Toronto to start preparing for the upcoming season. You could chalk up his breakout last season to his decision to bet on himself, and now that he’s seemingly playing to cash out again, he should have the same motivation he did last summer.
How he performs in 2023-24 will greatly indicate the type of money he makes beyond this upcoming season, and whether or not the Maple Leafs will feel comfortable locking him up long term. He’s got the ceiling to be a top-tier goaltender in this league, but they shouldn’t be committing any sort of term to a player based on potential. Nevertheless, with his age and the fact that he’s going to be an unrestricted free agent by the end of the season, it shouldn’t be a shock to anybody if Samsonov steps up and repeats his success from last season.

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