The Toronto Maple Leafs went into the 2022 offseason with a massive question mark in the crease. As each day passed, it seemed less and less likely that Jack Campbell would be re-signing with the team, and the only option after him was the injury-riddled Petr Mrazek, who was coming off the worst season of his career by a large margin. They would end up getting out of Mrazek’s contract at the 2022 NHL Draft, sending him along with their own first-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a second-rounder. Then, they made their first real big splash.
The Maple Leafs acquired Matt Murray from the Ottawa Senators only a few days before free agency opened up along with a third-round pick in 2023 and a seventh-round pick in 2024, a move that was met with skepticism across the hockey world due to his injury history and down-years with the Senators. Then, on day 1 of free agency, the same day Campbell signed a five-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto signed former Washington Capitals first-rounder Ilya Samsonov to a one-year contract worth $1.8 million after the Capitals elected not to tender him an offer.
With an entirely revamped goalie tandem heading into the 2022-23 season, the Maple Leafs were a constant talking point in that regard. With the stakes surrounding this season, and with general manager Kyle Dubas’ leash getting shorter with every first round collapse, this is who he settled on? Two reclamation projects? Well, as risky as the move was, there was also sky-high potential for both goalies, and we’ve seen glimpses of this potential early on. If the Maple Leafs want to make some noise in the playoffs, the performance of this goalie tandem is going to be instrumental in that process.
Maple Leafs’ Current Tandem Vastly Outplaying Old Tandem in 2022-23
It’s important to note that just because things are looking great in the Maple Leafs’ crease so far, doesn’t mean it will be that way all season. Campbell was one of if not the best goaltender in the league last November, and since then, he’s statistically been one of the worst. But I can’t predict the future, so right now we’re going to analyze the current situation. And currently, the Maple Leafs are looking like they made the right calls between the pipes by avoiding an extension with Campbell alone. Through the first two months of the season, let’s compare the four goalies’ numbers.
|Jack Campbell||13 GP, 7-6-0, 4.12 GAA (goals-against-average), .872 SV% (save percentage)|
|Petr Mrazek||9 GP, 2-5-1, 4.05 GAA, .884 SV%|
|Matt Murray||8 GP, 5-1-2, 2.63 GAA, .921 SV%|
|Ilya Samsonov||9 GP, 7-2-0, 2.09 GAA, .924 SV%|
Out of 70 eligible goaltenders, Campbell is currently dead last in the league in goals-saved-above-average (GSAA), which is essentially a stat that calculates the average amount of saves a goaltender makes on an amount of shots in comparison to the league average SV% on the same amount of shots. Campbell is currently sitting with a GSAA of minus- 12.83, which essentially tells the story that he’s not making saves when the team needs him to. Mrazek is ahead of him, but not by much, sitting at 60th in the league with a GSAA of minus-6.15.
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Samsonov and Murray, on the other hand, are sitting at 14th and 16th with GSAAs of 4.63 and 4.38, respectively. This holds up based on the eye test as well. There have been many games this season where Murray and Samsonov have kept their team in the game after they’ve had a couple of slip-ups defensively, and in the games where the Maple Leafs are controlling the pace, they’ve been able to make timely saves instead of making things interesting for the opponent.
Maple Leafs Had League-Worst Goaltending Through Second Half of 2021-22
There was a large period of time last season where they were playing good hockey as a unit, but couldn’t buy a save from their goaltenders, and if Murray and Samsonov could at bare minimum provide this current team with that kind of security, we might be looking at a different playoff picture and perhaps a different outcome in 2022-23. It sounds cliche to say, considering the Maple Leafs have been gunning for a different outcome each season since 2016-17, but there’s been a genuine improvement in team defense over the past few seasons, and getting bare-minimum goaltending could prove to be a massive difference.
To put things into context, Campbell had a record of 8-3-2 for the Maple Leafs through January and February of 2022. Not bad, right? Well, beyond that winning record, he had a .887 SV% and a 3.50 GAA. He somewhat turned it around in April, but not before he missed nearly the entire month of March with an injury, leaving the Maple Leafs with Mrazek and Erik Kallgren as their tandem. Speaking of the aforementioned Mrazek, to his credit, he did alright stepping in to replace a struggling Campbell in January, with a 3-1-0 record over four games with a 2.11 GAA and .921 SV%. But in February and March, he was back to his old ways, with a 3.32 GAA and .881 SV%. And, naturally, he missed the rest of the season after his nagging groin injury popped up on March 29.
It’s no coincidence that the Maple Leafs played some of their best hockey of the season in November of last season; when they were getting Vezina-level goaltending from Campbell. It’s also no coincidence that, despite a decent record of 23-11-3 between January and March, they were a step down from where they were in November, and were forced to outscore their problems more often than not. Campbell only managed a SV% above .900 in six of 17 games played between January and February, which flat-out isn’t good enough from your starting goalie. While it would be foolish to expect Murray and Samsonov to both have Vezina numbers all season, the bar is literally on the floor as we move later into the campaign.
Tandem Style Will Benefit Maple Leafs Goaltenders in 2022-23
A big issue with the Maple Leafs’ goalie tandem last season was that both Campbell and Mrazek were notably injury-prone, and even though the original plan was for them to share the crease to limit their individual workload, the durability issues still got in the way. It was very seldom that the Maple Leafs had both goalies healthy at the same time, and in the window where they were both healthy, one goalie was struggling heavily.
Now, it’s no secret that Murray has durability issues of his own. We already got a glimpse of them this season, seeing that he missed six weeks after a groin injury ahead of only his second game. But, Samsonov’s durability has generally been pretty good (outside of an injury sustained against the Boston Bruins this season), and having him for 30-40 starts could do wonders in terms of keeping Murray rested and healthy for when the team needs him most. Because, as we’ve seen in glimpses this season, he can be a top goalie when all the cards fall into place. When they don’t, it’s not so simple.
Goaltending Will Be More Important Down the Stretch
Another reason the goaltending is so much more important this season is because, as a whole, the Maple Leafs’ offensive production is down from last season. It’s still relatively early, but they scored five goals or more in 28 of their 54 wins last season, over half of the time. So far this season, they’ve only done so in three of their 15 wins, and they’ve yet to score more than five goals in a game. Is this sustainable? It can be. But simply put, it won’t be if they can’t buy a save from their goaltenders like they couldn’t in parts of last season.
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One might wonder where the Maple Leafs would have ended up in the standings had their goaltending even been a fraction as good as it was in October and November last season. Maybe they would have finished first in the division and drawn the Capitals instead of the back-to-back Cup champions. If they would have drawn Washington and still lost, then the fire sale probably already would have happened. But since they didn’t, it’s something we’ll never know. If one thing is for certain though, a huge part of the Maple Leafs’ ceiling will be dictated by their goaltending, and if they can keep playing the way they have been, the team will be in a much more comfortable position down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Alex Hobson is a writer and a radio producer for 610 CKTB. He has been writing about sports since 2015 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.