Dubas “Sow’s-Ear” Goalies Have Become Maple Leafs’ Silk Purse

Given the welcome Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov received when they came to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the offseason, where they stand right now on the season is beyond amazing. Both goalies packed a suitcase of questions as they came to Toronto. 

Was Murray injury prone? Could he ever reach the level of success he once had, but not that recently? Were the Maple Leafs flushing money down the toilet, even with the Ottawa Senators retaining salary? 

Matt Murray Ottawa Senators
Matt Murray, when he was with the Ottawa Senators.
(Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

About Samsonov, if he were so good, why didn’t the Washington Capitals qualify him? Was there a reason his old team didn’t want him? 

About the organization, was this general manager Kyle Dubas’ desperate attempt to salvage anything from a bleak goalie market? Was this his last Hail Mary before the train carried him out of town? Would coach Sheldon Keefe go with him?

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The situation for many fans seemed desperate. The season was over before it started.

Surprise: Maybe Dubas Is Smarter than We Think

Currently, as the Maple Leafs prepare to play the Los Angeles Kings tonight, they just came off an ugly but effective shutout win against the Dallas Stars on the road. The Maple Leafs played rope-a-dope with the Stars. 

Although the last 90 seconds at the end of the second period saw the Stars flailing away with all their might at what seemed to be a helpless Maple Leafs’ defense, the third period came. And, it was tame. Alex Kerfoot delivered the knockout punch with his empty-net goal that made the game 4-0.

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That win was the 12th straight game in which the Maple Leafs have picked up at least one point. The team’s current record in those games is 9-0-3. They are playing for 13 straight tonight and, perhaps, rolling toward the franchise record of 16 straight games gathering a point. That mark was set during the 2003-04 season.

Related: Maple Leafs Goalie Matt Murray Is Not the Problem

[As an aside, the 2003-04 season saw the Maple Leafs put together the third-best point total in team history. The Maple Leafs finished with a record of 45-24-3-10 for 103 points. At the time, it was the highest point total ever recorded. Ed Belfour and Trevor Kidd were the team’s goalies during that season. Since then, as Maple Leafs’ fans know, the highest point total was set last season with 115 points. And the 2017-18 team registered 105 points.]

Moving On from Jack Campbell

I really liked Jack Campbell as a goalie and even more as a person. But I was not surprised when the Maple Leafs decided to let him seek employment elsewhere. Although Campbell looked like a potential Vezina Trophy winner at this time last season, he was far less effective during the later half of the season. 

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

From my perspective, the rumors of his desired salary were too rich for the Maple Leafs. They knew him too well to risk the bank on him. In fact, he was almost as injury prone as the goalie they went out and picked up – Murray. 

Choosing Murray Over Campbell

My sense of the move to bring in Murray was that Dubas believed that his team was sufficiently sound defensively to give any goalie he brought in a chance to win. So, instead of Campbell, who had been a career backup, Dubas chose Murray, who had won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

True, Murray was coming off two sub-par seasons, but the Senators are not the Maple Leafs. They don’t have the total team defense that Toronto has and was pushing harder to build during the offseason. That team defense would help Murray regain his confidence, and his success would follow.

Related: Grading the Maple Leafs’ Matthews, Marner & Murray

With the Senators, Murray had struggled even when he was healthy. Just over a year ago, he passed through waivers and landed with the AHL’s Belleville Senators. He was a risk, but one with a huge potential upside – if it worked.

Samsonov Seemed to Come from Nowhere

I believe that, when the Maple Leafs traded for Murray, Ilya Samsonov was not specifically on their radar. The rumor that he might not be qualified by the Capitals seemed to come later and from nowhere. When the Capitals did not qualify him, the Maple Leafs jumped.

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

Samsonov was a 2015 first-round pick with the reputation of great potential. However, he had not shown Washington enough to wrestle the starting job from Vitek Vanecek. (Ironically, Vanecek has also moved on and is now helping the New Jersey Devils roll to win after win.).

The rumor was that the Capitals blinked when they realized they would have to give Samsonov a qualifying offer higher than they believed he was worth to the team. He was their Campbell. They let him walk to the Maple Leafs.

Fans Were Downright Angry at Dubas’ Choices

To say that Maple Leafs’ fans were uneasy about the tandem of Murray and Samsonov is a huge understatement. Fans were angry. Some wanted to keep Campbell. Others believed Dubas had pulled two goalies from the proverbial pig pen and was trying to make a silk purse.

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To trust the immediate future – the time remaining before Auston Matthews could take off for the desert – to a duo of goalies just off bad seasons – was too much to risk. Obviously, Dubas was desperate and had painted himself into a salary-cap corner. Dubas had missed the good goalies on the market earlier and had to settle for what was left.

Sadly Right About Campbell, Gladly also Right About Murray and Samsonov

Sadly, the Maple Leafs were right about goalie Campbell. Gladly, they were also right about Murray and Samsonov.

I have no joy to report that, as December enters its second week, the Maple Leafs were right about Campbell so far. He’s played so poorly in Edmonton that there are rumors he might be put on waivers and moved to Bakersfield. Like Murray a season ago, he’d likely clear waivers easily. (from “Leafs “dodged massive bullet” not signing Jack Campbell, says Toronto hockey writer. But who will have last laugh?,” David Staples, Edmonton Journal, 14/11/2022).

Matt Murray Toronto Maple Leafs
Matt Murray, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The better news in Toronto is that Murray and Samsonov have been great. Dubas called it. Both are benefitting from the Maple Leafs’ on-ice commitment to total team defense and are, in response, giving their team a chance to win every game. The confidence and success are flowing both ways – from the goalies to the players and back again.

Maple Leafs’ Goalie Twosome Rank High in NHL Key Statistics

Currently, the Maple Leafs’ two goalies are bumping their heads on the ceiling of NHL goalie statistics. In nine games, Samsonov sits second with a goals-against-average of 2.09. Also in nine games, Murray is sixth in that same category with a goals-against-average of 2.34.

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: How Much Worse Are the New Goalies?

Murray is tied for second in the NHL in save percentage at .932. Samsonov is fifth in save percentage at .924. Both are far ahead of the New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Will those rankings last? Who knows? But’s the current reality.

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