With Joseph Woll on the team, the Maple Leafs could play from a strong position in goal next year

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There was a lot to digest from the mania surrounding the Maple Leafs’ exit on Monday.

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Kyle Dubas’ rather muted support for coach Sheldon Keefe, the general manager’s own admission about balancing team duties with his young family, and various player opinions on their season and how 2023-24 could unfold were just a few of the things that made an busy day were discussed.

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What hasn’t been studied in recent years, unlike other luggage for locker cleaning, was the goalie game. In a true scripted pinball machine, an issue that usually dominates the list of necessary off-season repairs has been all but ignored.

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While much remains to be worked out through September, Ilya Samsonov had a career year, rookie Joseph Woll began his NHL journey with panache and veteran Matt Murray, when healthy, is valuable insurance.

In Toronto’s tormented history of elimination games, few have been stolen by its goalie rather than the opponent. But Samsonov managed to win the Tampa series, and with Woll under pressure to keep the season alive against the Panthers, he extended it and nearly won Game 5 before overtime went awry.

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The often-injured Leafs goalie Matt Murray spoke on Monday about the ups and downs of his season. JACK BOLAND/TORONTO SUN
The often-injured Leafs goalie Matt Murray spoke on Monday about the ups and downs of his season. JACK BOLAND/TORONTO SUN

The Leafs have yet to get restricted free agent Samsonov a satisfying raise, but it’s a great fit here after he emerged from the shadow of predicted No. 1 Murray. And Woll is still active, taking part in the Marlies’ playoff series against Rochester with a crucial game coming up on Wednesday.

“It was crazy, one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life,” Woll said Tuesday of his work with the farm and parenting teams. “Just the opportunity that was given to me, something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid, to go in and give the Leafs a chance.”

Getting back on the bus for a few hours this week instead of flying first class on the Leafs charter flight didn’t disappoint the 24-year-old Missourian.

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“The most important thing this year is trying to be where I am (mentally) and no matter what team I’m with, I’m doing my best to help them,” he said. “Having some experience in eliminations now, I’m able to be comfortable at this point and stick with what I know and have learned.”

That’s a 16-4-1 record at the Marlies before a few NHL appearances, then an NHL mark of 6-1 with a .932 save percentage in the regular season before splitting his two postseason starts.

“I want to bring that back here and try not to change too much depending on what league I play in,” Woll said. “The more experience I have, the more I can learn. Any time I can get into a situation where the season is at stake, it’s a good experience. It’s nice to be able to handle the ups and downs, get the chance (Leafs) then get out, come here now and keep the focus. I can apply what I have learned immediately.”

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Leafs goalie Joseph Woll clears Panthers forward Anthony Duclair's puck during the playoff series. USA TODAY SPORTS
Leafs goalie Joseph Woll clears Panthers forward Anthony Duclair’s puck during the playoff series. USA TODAY SPORTS

Marlies coach Greg Moore has sent a number of players onto Lake Shore Blvd. to Scotiabank Arena that season, but Woll made the biggest impression.

“It’s like watching your kids grow,” Moore said. “We are always very proud of the work they have done as players and as people. Joe has been patient and often that’s just the position of a goalkeeper waiting for that opportunity and sometimes that’s due to injury (in Murray’s case). But he proved to everyone that he is ready for this level.”

Samsonov missed the last two playoff games with a neck injury and had just started skating again when the Leafs were eliminated on Friday.

“I want to stay here,” said the new father on Monday about his contract. “We’ll see. It’s not my words anymore, it’s my agent.

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“A tough season with the (final) result, but we are positive about the future. I love my teammates, the coach, everyone in this room.”

Samsonov said he got along well with Murray, who is two years his senior, although keeping her sane at the same time has proved daunting.

“There were a lot of ups and downs,” agreed Murray, who, after winning two Stanley Cups earlier in his career with Pittsburgh, has struggled with major and minor health issues with Ottawa and then his new team. “My focus is on playing the best I can with the cards I’m dealt. There have been some challenges this year and also some really good things.”

Dubas and Keefe knew Murray personally from when they were with the OHL Soo Greyhounds. Dubas gambled two years at $4.68 million, a cap conundrum that will have to be resolved or resolved over the summer until Samsonov’s new deal is finalized.

“My goal is to maintain the level I played at in November and December (when he had many of his 14 wins),” Murray said.

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