The arrival of the annual NHL All-Star weekend signals that the 2023-24 season is about to get real and the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in the thick of the Stanley Cup playoff race. With an overall 25-14-8 record, the Leafs are sitting in the Eastern Conference wild card driver’s seat and only one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the final regular playoff berth. Of course, playoff predictions are nice right now but there is still a lot of hockey yet to be played but with the talents of sniper Auston Matthews and his quest for a 70-goal season as a hot-stove topic right now, the Leafs look solid enough to make the postseason.
The second part of the current NHL season deals little with on-ice happenings and more with front office deals as the annual trade deadline rapidly approaches and the million-dollar question is whether or not the Maple Leafs are looking to buy or sell players before the trade window closes early next month. Any trade movements at this point need to be seen through the lens of which players can help Toronto make a playoff run this spring; any mention of a possible Stanley Cup push may be a conversation for later seasons.
Is Ilya Samsonov on the Leafs’ trading block?
If you’ve followed the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, you are no doubt familiar enough with the trials and tribulations that netminder Ilya Samsonov has faced so far this season. From a hot start in October to a December collapse and demotion down to the AHL, Samsonov looks more and more like a mercurial subject for trade bait discussions within the NHL ranks. The Leafs can afford to join trade discussions right now given the fact that Martin Jones seems to be a lock on the future of this organization in terms of goaltending and backup Joseph Woll is on the road to recovery from an ankle injury incurred in December but without a definitive timeline for him to return to the lineup. At least in the short-term, Samsonov looks to be the viable backup goalie and his market value is improving given his overall 8-3 record along with his heralded return to the Leafs bench indicates that Samsonov’s head is back in the game – another signal that the Leafs may see him as a trade candidate.
Who could use Samsonov’s services right now?
Talking about players as trade candidates is one thing; finding another team willing to take on players trades and their associated salary cap issues is another issue entirely. For the Toronto Maple Leafs to truly consider Ilya Samsonov as trade bait, the Leafs need to find organizations willing to take on this netminder as a short-term stopgap measure. Of all the NHL teams who could use a decent backup goaltender right now, the Los Angeles Kings appear to be the top trade candidate. The Kings started out the 2023-24 season on a roll and looked to be a lock to go deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs. With Cam Talbot defending the pipes, the Kings were in control of the Pacific Division and then the wheels began to fall off with backup Pheonix Copley out for the season and then this organization really hit the skids including a 3-5-2 record in the last ten games. With a resurging Samsonov backing up All-Star Cam Talbot, the Kings could reverse their season fortunes around while giving Talbot some needed rest before the playoff push – assuming the Kings actually make the postseason.
If the Los Angeles Kings pass on Samsonov and his $3.55 million dollar salary cap, the New Jersey Devils may inquire about his services. With Vitek Vanacek a continued lock on the starting goaltending position in Newark, the Devils still are missing any true stable net minding duo with hopeful Akira Schmid back down in the AHL and interestingly enough, both Vanacek and Ilya Samsonov could be paired up again since they both played together with the Washington Capitals. However, salary cap issues may also be a hindrance to moving Samsonov over to New Jersey but general manager Todd Fitzgerald no doubt faces a potential goaltending crisis this season. Samsonov could be seen as a viable short-term rental goalie to help the Devils get over the late season hump and into the postseason this spring. Maybe the Devils could convince Martin Brodeur to come back? Well, maybe not in that department but nevertheless, the Devils need to shore up their goaltending department- fast.