NHL Experts Debate Who the Leafs Should Start in Game 1

Julien Trekker
March 21, 2023  (10:08)

The Toronto Maple Leafs have established themselves as a formidable force in the Eastern Conference, currently holding the second spot in the Atlantic Division and on pace for their seventh consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance. The team's strength is evident across all positions, including goaltending, which raises the question: who should be their playoff starter?

Matt Murray has a 13-7-2 record, a 2.96 GAA, a .905 save percentage, and one shutout in 23 starts. Ilya Samsonov has posted a 24-8-3 record, a 2.35 GAA, a .917 save percentage, and three shutouts in 35 games (34 starts).

NHL Experts Debate Who the Leafs Should Start in Game 1

Myers and Roarke from weighed in on the debate:
Myers: "All due respect to Murray, but I'd take Samsonov in this case. Outside of his numbers, I can sum up my reasoning in one word: health. Samsonov has been in good health while Murray has struggled with his. His latest injury was to his ankle, a bad one for any athlete but especially a goalie.

Anyway, back to Samsonov, who has been outstanding. His 24 wins are an NHL career high (he had 23 last season with the Washington Capitals) and his GAA and save percentage this season are his best since he's been in the League. He should be Toronto's guy in the postseason. "

Roarke: "I am sorry, where is the respect? Murray has won the Stanley Cup twice, in 2016 and 2017 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. As a rookie, he went 15-6 in the playoffs with a 2.08 GAA and a .923 save percentage. The next season, he lost three of 10 games in a relief role with a 1.70 GAA and a sterling .937 save percentage. That is called being playoff tested, and it is only acquired through experience.

And here is a fact about Samsonov: In his time with the Capitals, he played in eight playoff games and won one of them, with a 2.98 GAA and a .907 save percentage. Pedestrian at best. He was available last offseason partly because Washington management decided that a 25-year-old entering his prime wasn't cutting it in the postseason. That would certainly give me pause."

Myers:" As I said, full respect to Murray, but I'll stick with Samsonov. Sure, there's a lack of playoff experience. Murray also had a lack of it (less, actually) when he entered the 2016 playoffs with zero (repeat, zero) playoff games under his belt. Didn't hurt him a bit. You're either ready for the big stage or you're not, and Samsonov is.

Yes, fine, Samsonov's postseason numbers aren't that great to this point, but I believe he's ready to improve upon them. I'm mainly basing that on how he's done this season in always pressure-packed Toronto: You thrive there at any point, even the regular season, and you're onto something. I believe Samsonov gives the Maple Leafs the best chance of breaking their eliminated-in-the-first-round streak and continuing from there. "

Roarke: "The old you're-not-ready-until-you're-ready argument, huh? I am not buying it. There is a body of playoff work for each goalie. The body of work for Murray ended in a parade twice and a two beautiful, maybe even gaudy, rings. The body of playoff work for Samsonov has ended in heartbreak and disappointment and premature ends to seasons.

I would give Murray every opportunity to get his game in order down the stretch of the regular season and see if he can respond in the proper way because I have a lot more faith that he, not Samsonov, can lead the Maple Leafs to the promised land, or at least to the second round for the first time since 2004."

Who do you think is right?