It’s too soon to give up on Ilya Samsonov, using historical examples

Photo credit:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Ryley Delaney
7 months ago
It’s too early to give up on Ilya Samsonov.
As you probably know, Samsonov has had a rough start to his 2023-24 season, posting an .870 save percentage and a 3.79 goals against average in eight games. This is a far cry from his 2022-23 season, where he had a .919 save percentage and a 2.33 goals against average in 42 games. However, giving up on the 26-year-old netminder when he’s already shown promise could backfire big time on the Leafs, and we’ll look at some historical examples.

Edmonton Oilers give up on Devan Dubnyk:

This one hits a little bit close to home for me, as my team growing up was the Oilers. I still remember the day they traded the 27-year-old netminder to the Nashville Predators for a fourth line player.
Like Samsonov, Dubnyk had a promising start to his career. In his first four seasons in the NHL, he had a .913 save percentage and a 2.78 goals against average in 139 games played. Prior to the season he was traded, he even posted a .921 save percentage in 38 games played during the lockout shortened 2012-13.
However, he struggled the next season, posting an .894 save percentage and 3.36 save percentage in 32 games played, before the Oilers shipped him to Nashville for Matt Hendricks. Dubnyk didn’t have much success for the rest of the season, but he was borderline elite for the next four seasons. From the 2014-15 season to the 2018-19 season, Dubnyk had a .920 save percentage and a 2.35 goals against average in 317 games played with the Minnesota Wild and 19 games with the Arizona Coyotes. During this stretch, he finished fourth and 15th in Hart voting in two years, was a finalist for the Vezina trophy, and even made the Second team All-Star team.
In turn, the Oilers haven’t had a consistent goaltender since Dubnyk. Cam Talbot had a great season in 2016-17, but no other season compared to that year for him. Furthermore, Stuart Skinner is showing promise and even had a great rookie campaign, but like Samsonov, has had a tough start to his 2023-24 season.

Philadelphia Flyers move on from Sergei Bobrovsky:

Before Bobrovsky was a Vezina winner, before he carried the Florida Panthers to their second Stanley Cup Final. Bobrovsky was traded for draft picks. After two great seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, the undrafted goaltender made his way to the National Hockey League as a 22-year-old. In his first season with the Flyers, he had a .915 save percentage and a 2.59 goals against average in 54 games, finishing seventh in Calder voting that season.
His second season didn’t go as great, as Bobrovsky had an .898 save percentage and a 3.02 goals against average in 29 games. He also lost his starting job to fellow Russian Ilya Bryzgalov, as the Flyers traded two thirds for the charismatic goaltender. Interesting side note here, the Oilers traded Bryzgalov as well to the Minnesota wild for a fourth round pick. That pick was then used to draft current Leaf, William Lagesson.
Anyway, the Flyers traded Bobrovsky at the 2012 draft for three picks, one of which was Anthony Storlarz. He wasn’t going to re-sign with the team according to the late owner Ed Snider, but giving up an elite goaltender for picks is never good.
Bobrovsky immediately went on to win the Vezina Trophy in the lockout shortened 2012-13, posting a .932 save percentage and a 2 goals against average in 38 games. This wasn’t Bobrovsky’s only Vezina, as he won it once again in 2016-17 with a .931 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average. Since signing a seven-year deal with the Florida Panthers worth $70,000,000, he hasn’t been great. He has a .905 save percentage and a 2.95 goals against average in 197 games. However, he was the catalyst for the improbable run the Panthers went on during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It’s a little bit of a different situation than Dubnyk, but it’s safe to say the Flyers gave up an elite goalie for essentially nothing.

Washington Capitals refuse to pay Semyon Varlamov:

This one actually worked out for Washington.
Unlike Dubnyk’s situation or Bobrovsky’s situation, Varlamov never had a poor season with the Capitals. In 59 games with the team, he had a .917 save percentage and a 2.39 goals against average. Like Bobrovsky, Varlamov was a restricted free agent and it looked like he was potentially going to head back to the KHL. The Capitals then traded Varlamov on July 1, 2011 for a first round pick and a second round pick. 
The Capitals actually ended up selecting Filip Forsberg with the 11th overall pick in the 2012 draft, but then hilariously traded him for Martin Erat in one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. Furthermore, young goaltender Braden Holtby played 14 games with the Capitals in the 2010-11 season, before becoming a staple and one of the best goalies in the league from the 2012-13 season onward. As for Varlamov, after the trade to Colorado, he posted a .913 save percentage and a 2.59 goals against average in 53 games. Since the trade, he has a .916 save percentage and a 2.67 goals against average in 529 games played. He was also a Vezina finalist and finished fourth in Hart voting in 2013-14 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.41 goals against average.
It’s hard to say the Capitals made the wrong choice (until they traded Forsberg), but could you imagine a Varlamov and Holtby tandem? They would’ve won the cup sooner than 2018.

This is to say…

Goaltenders take time to develop. Sometimes, they run into speed bumps, which could easily describe Samsonov’s start to the 2023-24 season. Of course, goalies lose their game all the time, and some can never find it again. That may very well be the case for Samsonov, and as a contending team, it’s difficult for the Leafs to stick with it.
However, after only eight games, it’s far too soon to give up on Samsonov.

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