The main focus for the Toronto Maple Leafs right now is the upcoming 2023 NHL Playoffs, and more precisely how to get past the first round. With general manager Kyle Dubas on an expiring contract, his job and the job of head coach Sheldon Keefe could depend on it.
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Having said that, regardless of the outcome of this season, there will be a 2023-24 season. Decisions still have to be made that will affect this team beyond 2022-23. A look at the present roster of the Maple Leafs shows that, of the players presently on that roster, only five forwards and six defensemen are signed beyond this 2022-23 season.
There Will Be Goalie Decisions Next Season
Another key area where decisions will have to be made is goaltending. The Maple Leafs surprised a lot of people this past offseason when they dealt for the often-injured Matt Murray and signed unproven Ilya Samsonov. Both goalies came with a lot of baggage and a lot of question marks.
To this point of the season, the moves seem to be working out as both goalies have performed well beyond what many thought they were capable of. Yes, Murray is still dealing with injuries and Samsonov has had his cold spells. However, the overall goaltending for the Maple Leafs has been some of the best in the league. We still have yet to see how they perform in the postseason, though.
However this plays out, it is doubtful the Maple Leafs will want to (or be able to) carry both Murray and Samsonov beyond this season. Murray is under contract for one more year with a cap hit of $4.7 million, and Samsonov will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the conclusion of this season.
Samsonov Has Played Well
In 24 appearances this season, Samsonov has a 17-5-2 record, a save percentage (SV%) of .917, and a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.31. According to Quanthockey.com, Samsonov is ranked 12th in wins, 10th in SV%, and fourth in GAA amongst goalies who have played 20 or more games.
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The one thing those numbers say is that Samsonov is going to be due a big raise in the upcoming offseason. It also says that the Maple Leafs are not going to be able to afford both goalies beyond the 2022-23 season. They will have to make an either-or decision as to which one of them stays and which one goes.
A Look Again at Joseph Woll (and Others)
If we look beyond Murray and Samsonov, according to CapFriendly, the Maple Leafs have three other goalies signed to NHL contracts beyond this season.
The goalies in the system include 24-year-old Joseph Woll, signed to the end of 2024-25 for $767,000 per season; 21-year-old Dennis Hildeby, also signed through to 2024-25 for $843,000 per season; and 23-year-old Keith Petruzzelli signed for one more season at $818,000. They also have Erik Kallgren, whose present deal expires at the end of this season, but is still a restricted free agent (RFA). As a result, he shouldn’t cost much more than the league minimum to re-sign.
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The odds of either Petruzzelli or Hildeby being able to compete in the NHL next season are slim to none. That leaves Woll or Kallgren as possible backups to whichever one of Murray or Samsonov returns next year.
Kallgren, who was signed by the Maple Leafs back in May of 2021 out of the Swedish Hockey League, has shown he can be a capable backup in the NHL. In the past two seasons with the Maple Leafs, he’s played 24 games and posted an 11-6-5 record with a .892 SV% and a 3.04 GAA. While the SV% and GAA for Kallgren are so-so, the 11-6-5 record works out to a winning percentage of 0.590. That’s not bad for a backup.
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The question the Maple Leafs have to ask themselves in relation to Kallgren is, do they want to depend on him, and him alone, to be their No. 2 goalie?
This Is Where Joseph Woll Steps In
Woll was drafted by the Maple Leafs with their 62nd pick in the third round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He played for Boston College for the next three seasons, posting a .916 SV% and a 2.51 GAA.
He joined the Toronto Marlies in 2019 and prior to this season played a total of 62 games over three seasons in the AHL. His playing time has been limited due to injuries, including a major shoulder injury that required surgery and a knee injury. His numbers prior to this season were not overly great either. His SV% over the three seasons was around .890 and his GAA was approximately 3.60.
Woll did appear in four games for the Maple Leafs last season posting a 3-1-0 record with a .911 SV% and a 2.76 GAA. So he did get a taste of the NHL and handled it well.
This season, Woll has performed spectacularly for the Toronto Marlies. In 13 starts he has only lost one game, posting a 12-1-0 record. His SV% is .928 and his GAA is 2.46. He was rewarded for that stellar play by being called up to the Maple Leafs when it was discovered that Matt Murray was dealing with an ankle injury and was abruptly pulled just prior to his last scheduled start.
Failing injury, if the Maple Leafs can figure out a way to get Woll into some games this season, while at the same time not losing any ground in the Atlantic Division standings, it can go a long way to sorting out their goaltending situation beyond this season.
Considering Murray vs. Samsonov for Next Season
Getting back to the Murray versus Samsonov equation, on the surface, it might seem that with the Maple Leafs having Murray under contract for one more season at $4.7 million and Samsonov being a UFA, they would be saddled with Murray and his contract. That would force them to allow Samsonov to walk.
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This isn’t necessarily so. If the Maple Leafs decided they wanted to divest themselves of Murray, they have the resources to put together an attractive package with him in it. They could even retain some salary. Murray, on a one-year deal with a salary cap hit between $2.3 and $2.4 million might be appealing to a team looking for an experienced backup to mentor an up-and-coming younger starting goalie. The money saved if the Maple Leafs were to retain 50 percent of Murray’s cap hit could go toward signing Samsonov.
Woll Could Offer the Maple Leafs Another Option
Either way, regardless of which goalie the Maple Leafs decided to keep, if Woll can show he can play in the NHL it gives the team another option for a backup goalie. They wouldn’t be putting all their goaltender eggs in one basket.
We’ll have to see if Woll can get into any of the upcoming games following the All-Star Break.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]