The recent chatter in the media has attempted to spin a goaltending controversy in Toronto, but let’s set the record straight, there is no goaltending controversy for the Toronto Maple Leafs at this time.
One of the most promising developments for the Toronto Maple Leafs has been the standout performance of Joseph Woll.
It’s unfortunate that we’ve been pronouncing his name as “Wole” when “Wall” would make for a perfect goaltending nickname. Nevertheless, the marketing team can still roll with a “Brick Woll” t-shirt, although it doesn’t carry the same charm now that we’ve been saying his name wrong all along.
Heading into the regular season, the goaltending situation was clear. Ilya Samsonov was projected to be the team’s primary netminder, with Woll serving as the backup. However, this wasn’t envisioned as a traditional backup role but more of a tandem arrangement.
Toronto Maple Leafs Don’t Have Goaltender Controversy
Tandem goaltending has become a popular strategy in the NHL over the last decade, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are no stranger to this approach.
In recent years, we’ve seen a Jack Campbell/Freddie Andersen duo, an Ilya Samsonov/Matt Murray pairing, and now Ilya Samsonov/Joseph Woll. Surprisingly, this tandem approach hasn’t significantly impacted the team’s regular-season success.
It’s essential to acknowledge the Leafs playoff struggles. However, it’s unfair to place the blame on the goaltending duo. More often than not, it’s the opposing team’s goaltender who has thwarted the Leafs playoff aspirations.
It’s worth noting that many other teams have utilized goaltending tandems and have made deep playoff runs, and some even clinched Stanley Cups. Consequently, the Leafs current approach shouldn’t spark controversy or be up for debate.
Expectations need to be realistic. Ilya Samsonov has never played more than 44 games in a season, so expecting him to suddenly become a workhorse with 60+ games wasn’t realistic. Joseph Woll, although relatively new to the NHL, is not far behind Samsonov in age and has been preparing for this opportunity for some time. It’s reasonable to anticipate both goalies sharing starts.
In their initial four starts, Woll’s performance has eclipsed Samsonov’s (via hockeydb.com):
- Joseph Woll: 3-1 record, 1.33 GAA, .961 SV%
- Ilya Samsonov: 2-1 record, 4.34 GAA, 0.831 SV%
Samsonov’s challenging start should not automatically thrust Woll into the role of the everyday starter. Instead, it should breed healthy competition and push both goalies to elevate their game.
As a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA), Samsonov is playing for a lucrative contract next year. Woll, on the other hand, must prove himself as an NHL-caliber goalie on a nightly basis. This situation presents the Toronto Maple Leafs with an opportunity to have two proven goalies who can get the job done.
Rather than a goaltending controversy, the Leafs are benefiting from a competitive goalie duo. The early-season struggles of one shouldn’t overshadow the long-term potential of both goalies, and it’s reasonable to expect Samsonov to rebound as the Leafs pursue the top spot in the Atlantic Division.