As the Toronto Maple Leafs gear up towards the stretch run with hopes to make the playoffs once again, they will be looking forward to make some crucial moves at the trade deadline to bolster their lineup.
Last year, the Toronto Maple Leafs made their biggest move early when they acquired Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly along with grinder Noel Acciari to massively upgrade their roster a couple weeks prior to the deadline. Toughness, defense and proven playoff performer were the key focuses of the team when they considered trade transactions at the time.
However, for this season, the Leafs may need to play the waiting game a little longer as they will need to have a clearer picture of how their goaltending situation will play out before making any drastic moves.
What that means is the Leafs will need to gauge the health and performances of both Joseph Woll and Ilya Samsonov in the upcoming weeks to determine if their main focus at the trade deadline should be on goaltending help more than anything else.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Deadline Will Hinge on Joseph Woll and Ilya Samsonov
At first, the Leafs began the 2023-24 NHL season believing they have a strong enough goalie tandem that could take them far in the playoffs.
After all, both Samsonov and Woll were coming off solid seasons, with Samsonov posting his career-best numbers with a 27-10-5 record, 2.33 GAA and .919 save percentage, while Woll impressed with a 6-1-0 record, 2.16 GAA and .932 save percentage in his short stint with the team.
More importantly, Samsonov helped the Leafs win their first playoff series in over two decades, while Woll held his own and showed that he belonged when he replaced an injured Samsonov during the second round series against the Florida Panthers.
However, things sure have not gone to plan so far for either goaltenders this season. Samsonov struggled out of the gate and was even near the bottom of the league in multiple goaltending stats categories before his slight turnaround in recent weeks.
For Woll, he appeared to have taken over the reigns as the Leafs starting goalie until he suffered a high ankle sprain injury in early December that has sidelined him since. On the season, Samsonov sports a decent 9-4-6 record, but with a 3.38 GAA and .879 save percentage, whereas Woll has a tidy 8-5-1 record with a 2.80 GAA and .916 save percentage. (All stats from hockeydb.com)
Even though third-string goalie Martin Jones did a fine job in holding the fort while the other two were down and out, his shortcomings have reared its head once again last month and shouldn’t be counted upon to lead the team into the playoffs.
As a result, the two key things to monitor will be how fast Woll can heal up and return to his form prior to his injury and how much Samsonov can make the right adjustments to his game to salvage his season. Those outcomes will determine if the Leafs will need to find a No. 1 goalie, a backup goalie, or neither heading into the playoffs.
So far, Woll is taking longer to recover than initially expected, while Samsonov’s shakiness has started to show once again in the past couple of games. Hopefully, both of them can bring back their A-game seen from last season, giving the team the absolute confidence to address other needs at the trade deadline, rather than going all-in on a goalie fix.