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The Russian goalkeeper received a long-awaited contract. Now Toronto urgently needs to clean up the composition.

Date: October 1, 2023 Time: 01:36:47

The Enkhael Arbitration decision on Ilya Samsonov hardly surprised anyone. Independent referees in recent times almost always award players the arithmetic mean of the club’s and player’s request. Samsonov wanted $4.9 million, the club insisted on half the amount ($2.4 million) – the verdict turned out to be slightly in favor of the club, $100,000 less than the average – $3.55 million. The contract is only one year, in the summer of 2024 Samsonov will be NSA, and this season he will have to prove that last season was not an increase.

“It can be argued that Samsonov was the team’s most valuable player for a long stretch last season, his first with Toronto. Given this, Ilya will be the number one goalkeeper for the Leafs at the start of the season,” writes The Athletic journalist Josh Klock. In principle, Toronto has no choice: the fact that the parties have gone this far in their contract dispute is astonishing. Who would then go into the ceiling-topping Toronto season with, the traumatic Murray or the fledgling Wall?

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Right now, Toronto is $12.3 million over the ceiling. With defenseman Jake Mazzin effectively out of hockey and heading to LTIR, that’s down to $6.75 million, which is still a lot, a lot. Now the Toronto leadership faces a tactical crossroads.

Matt Murray answers questions from journalists

Photo: Nathan Denette/AP/TASS

The number one question is what to do with Matt Murray? The transfer of this player was initially questionable, there was no rational reason for it other than the fact that Murray was playing in Kyle Dubas’s junior team. Now that the “patron” is gone, and there’s no reason for the Club to keep less than $5 million worth of backup in the composition. To expect Matt to suddenly return to the form of 2017 is about as naive as possible: after all the injuries and concussions, this is unlikely to happen.

Here are two options. First, Murray, like Mazzin, may be sent to LTIR – Matt’s trauma history accounts for this. Secondly, he cannot wait for ailments and terminate the goalkeeper’s contract: Samsonov’s arbitration decision opens a “window” for such a decision. In the first case, the club will legally save $4.68 million from the goalkeeper’s contract, in the second, only $4 million, and the rest will be a fine below the ceiling. However, even after that, the money remains. The only problem is that Murray can only be sent to LTIR before the start of the season, and Toronto is already breaking the ceiling by an amount greater than 10% of the ceiling allowed in the offseason. The problem must be solved urgently.

And here the second key issue is the extension of the contract with William Nylander. At one point, the Swede already made a soap opera when in 2018 he held out with a contract extension until the very term, after which the OCA could not play in the league. Now Willy does not agree to compromises, and one can understand this: the “local” Marner and Matthews immediately received everything they wanted. At the same time, Nylander plays the most stable of all the Big Four in the playoffs, the one that receives the least money, but especially from the local press, which almost once a month wonders which defender would be better to trade Nylander for. In general, the Swede is logically valued more than he is valued in Toronto, so right now a lot of people are expecting a trade for Willy, who is paid nearly $7 million a year.

If such a trade happens, it could free up the $2 million Toronto needs. However, past seasons show that teams that claim something in such situations do not always trade players upon expiration of contracts, preferring to use their resource to the end, even at the risk of losing them for free. Then Toronto can start the season with a truncated request, sending two slightly-over-minimum contracts to the AHL: forward Sam Lafferty and defenseman Connor Timmins, for example. Yes, this will leave the club with only 18 fields, there will be no substitutes at all, but due to the ceiling situation in the league, more than one club entered the season this way.

Ilya Samsonov in a game with Boston

Photo: Frank Gunn/AP/TASS

Well, what about the main character of the day? It is difficult to make any predictions about Samsonov, because the goalkeeper position in the modern NHL has long turned into a lottery, and most often without winning. Completely talentless goalkeepers in the NHL do not take off: the same Edin Hill, who impressed everyone in the playoffs, was cited well during the game in Arizona, went to the World Cup team. What needs to be done to unlock this potential to its fullest remains a mystery to many teams. The game system, the right coach, mental health, small tactical nuances – the goalkeeper’s game is influenced by many more factors than field hockey players.

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It’s hard to draw conclusions without being close to Samsonov on a day-to-day basis, but last season the goalkeeper had a lot to prove. A race in Washington after being drafted in the first round (a huge rarity for goalies) didn’t start so well, Ilya had problems along the way (all-terrain vehicle accident, for example). If Samsonov were to fail the season in Toronto, then the probability of returning to the KHL would be huge. In the new championship there will be no such threat, and it is not clear how this will affect the goalkeeper’s motivation. It should be remembered that in the modern NHL, it sometimes takes twenty games for a goaltender to go from star to hated by fans; however, the return trip can take just as long.

Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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