Right now, as I write this, the Toronto Maple Leafs goalie situation is far from settled. Many of us believe that Ilya Samsonov has already made a deal for the upcoming season, but it hasn’t been announced because his arbitration gives the team another chance to buy out Matt Murray’s contract.
However, there’s no assurance that such speculation is accurate. As a result, the question of who the team’s starting goalies are is on people’s minds. Last season’s starting goalie, Matt Murray, was inconsistent because of his injuries. Given his recent history of injuries, it would seem silly to carry him again this season along with his very large salary-cap hit.
In fact, over the past season, Samsonov stood tall and rightly won the starting job. However, under the radar perhaps – because of his small sample size – Joe Woll showed himself to be a reliable netminder. In fact, Woll has (at least in my mind) emerged as a candidate for the number 1B goalie job. Despite his lack of experience, his performance when he did play gave fans and hockey writers alike solid reasons why they should root for Woll to carry a heavier load in the crease this coming season.
Five Reasons Why Woll Could Become Goalie 1B
Reason One: Woll Is Both Consistent and Reliable
While Murray’s tenure with the Maple Leafs was marred by frequent injuries and inconsistent play, Woll’s play has been quite the opposite. He’s shown potential and resilience, even in high-pressure playoff games.
Over four difficult postseason games, Woll showed well. He put up a solid .915 save percentage and a 2.43 goals-against-average in four stress-filled games. He has shown he can handle the spotlight. In my mind, it’s about time the Maple Leafs began to rely on their own farm system. Banking on Woll’s potential could be a step in that direction. If he did prove to be a stable net presence, he’s set the team ahead for the foreseeable future.
Reason Two: Woll Gives the Team Salary Cap Flexibility
Woll’s contract status gives the team a significant advantage in terms of salary-cap management. His salary cap hit is less than $1 million. If he can share the starting job, he could free up valuable financial resources that could be used to strengthen other areas of the team.
The defense could use some solid bottom-pairing veterans. If the Maple Leafs could rely on Woll, he’s at such an affordable price that it would be a team’s dream to have him in the net.
Reason Three: Woll Should Have an Opportunity for His Own Growth
At 25 years old, Woll is at a crucial point in his career. He’s done well in games he’s played at the NHL level. At what point does the team offer him a chance to handle the starting position? Certainly, he has proven he should at least have the opportunity to show himself.
If Woll does prove himself as a reliable NHL starter, he’d have time to develop his skills and improve his game even further. There’s still a lot to learn; however, he seems ready for the challenge of being a 1B starter. The team should take advantage of his development and give him the chance to show if he can carry the load.
Reason Four: The Maple Leafs Have Limited Free Agency Options
So, looking around and assuming that Samsonov is the 1A goalie, is there a better free agent on the market than Woll would be? Among goalies, the choice is thin. Few standout options pop to the surface.
Instead of gambling on a past-his-prime veteran, of which there are a few – Brian Elliott was rumored as being of interest – why not invest in a homegrown talent like Woll? He’s a more exciting prospect. He’s already demonstrated his potential. As well, there’s every indication the team loves playing in front of him. He could grow into a top-level goalie.
Reason Five: Could Woll Become a Maple Leafs’ Success Story?
Sure, it’s a long shot to think Woll could lead the Maple Leafs to a Stanley Cup win; or, is it? NHL history has shown that rookie goalies can surprise everyone. Murray was an example when he won with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s not alone. Jordan Binnington (of the St. Louis Blues) and last season’s Vegas Golden Knights’ goalie Aidin Hill have risen from obscurity to winning the Stanley Cup.
Who’s to say Woll can’t follow a similar path?
The Bottom Line
If Woll emerged as the team’s number 1B goalie, the Maple Leafs would have a ton of advantages. If he were consistent, his salary cap flexibility is a huge plus. It could open up a space for another player.
It’s time for the Maple Leafs to take a chance on the uncertainty that Woll’s talent brings. He could be a difference-maker this season. Why not give him a chance to show what he can do?
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