At the beginning of the season, Ilya Samsonov was poised to continue his role as the starting goalie for the Leafs. After lifting the Leafs past the first round of playoffs for the first time since 2004, the team and its fanbase were confident Samsonov was the goalie for the future. This did not go as planned.
Samsonov has struggled greatly this season, with a save percentage of only 0.862. Samsonov’s play has been so poor that rookie goaltender Joseph Woll was chosen to take over the starting job. Woll’s 0.916 save percentage has bailed the Leafs out of a few games they did not deserve to win this season and has propelled Woll to become the Leafs starting goalie for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, as Leafs’ luck goes, Woll suffered an ankle injury in December and will likely be out of play until February. This put Samsonov back in the starting position, while the Leafs called up their third option, Martin Jones. With this opportunity in hand, Samsonov continued to struggle, eventually being demoted to the American Hockey League. This unprecedented move highlights how unplayable Samsonov has been, putting the Leafs in a difficult spot. As of right now, Martin Jones, who started the season as the Leafs’ third goalie, remains the starting goalie. Jones and his 0.930 save percentage have stabilized the crease for the Leafs. However, the question of who will back him up remained unanswered.
Dennis Hildeby has had a tremendous start to the season for the Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. As a rookie goalie, his numbers are excellent, and he has tremendous potential. However, some believe that thrusting Hildeby into the NHL at his age and with his relatively low level of experience could ruin his development. Despite these concerns, Hildeby was called up to back up Martin Jones. It is unclear if this is the plan for the foreseeable future, as Joseph Woll’s timeline to return is unclear and the current goalie market is scarce. For now, however, the Leafs look to Jones and Hildeby to guard the net.
One bright spot for the Leafs has been the play of defenceman Simon Benoit. Benoit, also known as Benny, has been solid on the blue line for the Leafs. What he lacks in offence and goal scoring, he makes up for with his tremendous defensive play and physical assertion over opposing players. Benoit was a sleeper pick-up for the Leafs. Not much was expected from the 25-year-old defenceman, as he came off a subpar season with the Anaheim Ducks, who finished dead last in the league that season. Few fans expected to find Benoit on the second defensive pair alongside Jake McCabe. The shutdown pair has won their minutes and provided solid defence for the team.
As the Leafs enter the new year, goaltending continues to be an area of concern. However, fans hope to see Martin Jones continue to stabilize the team, regardless of his position at the beginning of the season as the Leafs third goalie. The possible activation of Dennis Hildeby also peaks fan interest, as the future will tell if the Leafs are confident enough in him to play him or if reserving him for the right time is the best option. In front of the goalies, the Leafs team defence, best exemplified by Simon Benoit, will continue to be tested as the Leafs look to see what positions they need to prioritize heading into the trade deadline.
Sports & Health Editor (Volume 50); Locked on Leafs Columnist (Volume 48 & 49) — Omar is in his final year at UTM, working towards completing a major in CCIT and double minors in Political Science and Anthropology. Omar loves to keep up with various sports teams, his favourite being the Toronto Maple Leafs. When he isn’t stressing over exams or the Leafs, you can find him watching movies, looking at shoes he can only hope to afford, and trying his best to avoid parking tickets on campus.