Maple Leafs’ Ilya Samsonov’s Future In Toronto Looking Murky

The 2022-23 season was a breakout campaign for Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov. After the Washington Capitals let him walk in free agency, the 2015 first-round thrived with the change of scenery and won the Maple Leafs’ starting goaltender job in the process. In 42 games, the 26-year-old posted a 27-10-5 record, a .919 save percentage (SV%), and a 2.33 goals-against average (GAA). This was enough for him to land a nice one-year, $3.55 million contract in arbitration.

After a strong first season with the Maple Leafs, the expectation was that Samsonov would continue to improve in 2023-24. However, the exact opposite has happened so far during this young season, as Samsonov has struggled immensely. Due to this, it is already fair to question if Samsonov will be a long-term part of the Maple Leafs’ plans. Let’s discuss why now.

A Look Into Samsonov’s Nightmare 2023-24 Season

Samsonov’s 2023-24 season honestly could not have started off much worse. In seven appearances for the Maple Leafs thus far, he has a 2-1-2 record to go along with a .855 SV% and a 4.11 GAA. With that, he has been pulled from the first period in two out of his last four starts, both against the Tampa Bay Lightning. This includes the Maple Leafs’ last game on Nov. 6, where he allowed four goals on 12 shots before being pulled and slamming his mask in anger.

Ilya Samsonov Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Besides these two pullings, the majority of his other appearances have not been too strong. He has only had at least a .900 SV% in two out of his seven games. In his other starts, he had a .792 SV% (Montreal Canadiens), .875 SV% (Minnesota Wild), .250 SV% (Lightning), .875 SV% (Nashville Predators), and a .667 SV% (Lightning). This is just not good enough.

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In response to Samsonov’s play, Joseph Woll has been receiving real consideration to be the club’s starting netminder. It ultimately makes sense, as he has been excellent for the Maple Leafs this season, posting a 4-3-0 record, a .930 SV%, and a 2.30 GAA. Needless to say, he has been the far better goalie.

What Maple Leafs Could Do With Samsonov

When noting that Samsonov is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after this season, it is quite possible that the Maple Leafs let him walk. In fact, it is far more probable than not that they will if he does not find last season’s form quickly. If his play does not improve significantly as the season rolls on, the Maple Leafs will have no choice but to find an upgrade during the offseason, whether it is through trade or in free agency.

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Yet, there is also a possibility that the Maple Leafs could look to move Samsonov during the season if his play continues to be mediocre. At the trade deadline, the Maple Leafs are likely going to want to add to their group, and moving on from Samsonov’s $3.55 million cap hit would allow them more freedom to do so. With that, even if his struggles continue, he is still a movable player, as he is in the final season of his contract. Sellers would have zero trouble adding him if it meant adding a little more in a potential trade for taking on his deal.

Ilya Samsonov Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leafs (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Ultimately, there are early but also clear signs that Samsonov’s future with the Maple Leafs is in danger. His play will need to pick up to help his chances of avoiding one of these two fates.

Samsonov Still Has Potential to Bounce Back

Although Samsonov’s poor play is starting to make his future with the club look less concrete, there is still a ton of time for him to turn things back around. The Maple Leafs still have 70 more games to play this season, and the sample size for his 2023-24 campaign is extremely small because of it. With that, when looking at how well he performed last season, we should not rule out the prospect of him bouncing back. He still could form a strong 1A/1B tandem with Woll.

We will now need to wait and see how well Samsonov performs from here. However, if his tough start becomes the norm over these next few months, don’t be surprised if we don’t see him with the Blue and White as soon as the next calendar year is here.