Surely, this is the end for Ilya Samsonov as a Maple Leaf.
They can’t start him any longer. They can’t trust him. They can’t believe in him in any way.
And once the trust is broken between team and coach and goaltender — each of those has to be working in sync for success — it becomes a matter almost impossible to repair.
Samsonov has reached the awkward hold-your-breath stage of NHL goalies. When every shot is taken you wonder: ‘Is it going in, how is it going in?’ And no team can operate with that kind of uncertainty at its most important position.
We can see it from afar. The players can see it up close. The coach, Sheldon Keefe, is living it and is privately livid about it. When the Leafs need to score five, six or seven goals to have a chance to win on any night with Samsonov in net, they have no hope of moving forward.
This is not unlike what happened to Alek Manoah last summer with the Blue Jays. A starting pitcher is alone on the mound and vulnerable in the same way a goaltender is the last line of defence in hockey. When Manoah couldn’t get anyone out, the Blue Jays removed him from their rotation and eventually from the roster.
In the salary-capped National Hockey League, the moving of players is not as simple. The Leafs are searching for an answer, another goalie, another body, somebody to get in the way of a puck. Nobody in hockey is ready to do them a favour.
This is the first crisis for Brad Treliving as general manager of the club.
What he does with Samsonov — I would waive him, no one would claim him — and replace him temporarily before young starter Joseph Woll returns.
The Leafs need to find a way to get to February without Samsonov, who is on a one-year contract with the club.
Last year, he took one year to bet on himself. This year, it was all that was offered.
THIS AND THAT
Numbers can lie: Samsonov has started 55 games as a Leaf. He has won 32 of those games … This is Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner’s eighth season with the Leafs. The Leafs goalies in those years: Freddie Andersen, Jack Campbell, Matt Murray, Petr Mrazek, Curtis McElhinney, Michael Hutchinson, Erik Kallgren, Garret Sparks, Martin Jones, Samsonov and Woll. No comment necessary … Mats Sundin’s goalies with the Leafs: Primarily Curtis Joseph, Ed Belfour and Felix Potvin. Wonder how this Leafs team would get along with that quality of netminding … Matthews is scoring at a 70-plus goal pace, which is semi-breathtaking. William Nylander is having the season of his dreams and the Leafs are 13th in points in the NHL standings, ninth in points percentage. This is what crappy goaltending and ordinary team defensive play does to undermine a club … When Cliff Fletcher was GM of the Atlanta Flames, he signed goalie Jim Craig, hero of the 1980 U.S. Miracle on Ice team. Turned out, Craig wasn’t much of an NHL goalie. Things got so bad in Atlanta that Fletcher ordered the players to shoot right at him in the pre-game warmups, hoping it would raise his confidence. It didn’t work. The next year, the Flames moved to Calgary and Craig tried to hang on with the Boston Bruins. One of those moves worked out well … Vancouver’s magician defenceman Quinn Hughes has more assists this season than Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Mitch Marner or Elias Pettersson. More assists than everyone in the NHL except Nathan MacKinnon. Hughes is a candidate for both the Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy as the half-season approaches … TheLeafs have first-pair defencemen in Morgan Reilly and TJ Brodie. But after that, the rest of the blue-line corps are 5, 6 and 7s. They need some 2s, 3s and 4s. The more Jake McCabe plays, the more he gets exposed … The great Ray Ferraro on goaltending: “You don’t need the best, but you can’t have the worst.”
HEAR AND THERE
So, did Ross Atkins have a dream and think he was signing Ralph Kiner instead of Isiah Kiner-Falefa? The late Kiner, if you didn’t know, led the National League in home runs in his first seven major-league seasons. The current Kiner-Falefa has 26 home runs over six years, which is three more than Kiner hit as a rookie in Pittsburgh in 1946 … If signing Kiner-Falefa means the Jays will not be bringing back Matt Chapman to play third base, Toronto will be weaker in the field and at the plate with any combination of IKF, Cavan Biggio or Davis Schneider playing the corner …. You can’t love what’s happened this off-season with Atkins and Mark Shapiro unless you like stadium renovations. It’s a tough time to be a Toronto sports fan and not be sure about who is running the Blue Jays, or sure about the direction Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have taken with the Raptors — even after Saturday’s big trade — or sure what direction Brendan Shanahan and Brad Treliving have gone with the Maple Leafs. At least the Argos have Pinball Clemons and John Murphy, so you don’t have to worry about that part on your sporting calendar … Purely personal, my Toronto/national media personalities of the year, in no particular order: Overdrive host Bryan Hayes, who is the new Bob McCown on Toronto radio’s only must-listen-to radio show. He’s in my house every day at dinner time; Kevin Barker, from the Blair and Barker Show, who tells me more about baseball than I care to know or understand; Elliotte Friedman, who works non-stop for Rogers Sportsnet, on television, radio, internet and podcast, always informative and entertaining; and Cheryl Pounder, who has leapt all women in her profession with hockey commentary for TSN. And a special shoutout to Ailish Forfar of the Fan590 for having the courage to go public with her story of being sexually abused in sport.
SCENE AND HEARD
Not sure what’s a bigger surprise this hockey season: The return to relevance of John Tortorella or the return to relevance of his Philadelphia Flyers in the first year under the good-guy duo of team president Keith Jones and first-year GM Danny Briere … When the New Jersey Devils last played in the Stanley Cup final, there was a sign inside their dressing room with a top-10 rules for the day. If I recall, No. 7 read: “Sticks on the ice, two hands on your stick.” Somebody should put that note in Tyler Bertuzzi’s locker … Don’t know if this has ever happened before: When Toronto plays New York on Monday afternoon in the debut of the Professional Women’s Hockey League, the game will be televised simultaneously on three networks, TSN, CBC and Sportsnet … The Pro Football Hall of Fame has listed its 15 finalists for the class of 2024, which includes wide receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne and sure-thing tight end Antonio Gates. There are 26 players on the ballot this year for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Football and baseball tell you who is on their short list. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Hockey Hall of Fame did the same? My 12-man ballot for next year’s Hall would include, alphabetically, Rod Brind’Amour, Pavel Datysuk, Patrik Elias, Sergei Gonchar, Curtis Joseph, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Marleau, Alex Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Shea Weber and Henrik Zetterberg. My class of inductees would be Datsyuk, Joseph, Mogilny and Weber …FanGraphs has listed the Blue Jays as having the best starting rotation in the American League … I don’t know why the notion of OG Anunoby being in the media capital of the world makes me laugh, but it does. He’s basically oblivious to attention and almost impossible to intervew.
AND ANOTHER THING
As of Saturday, Jose Bautista had received no Hall of Fame votes on the 85 ballots disclosed by online tracker Ryan Thibodeau. He will get at least one vote — mine. It’s almost certain now that he won’t receive the 5% vote necessary to advance to next year’s ballot. It doesn’t undo any of the spectacular years he had with the Blue Jays. There just weren’t enough of them for him to take the next step. The Hall of Fame will announce the 2024 class on Jan. 23 … Big congrats to George Stroumboulopoulos, well-deserved to be among the newest members of the Order of Canada. To me, he’s the modern-day Peter Gzowski … I stayed in the same hotel as the Baltimore Ravens at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Got to know Joe Flacco just a little bit, but enough to get a sense that he’s someone worth cheering for 11 years and a couple of retirements after the win … After his past two NFL years, why would anyone want Russell Wilson at quarterback next season? … Hard decisions to make over the holidays: Didn’t know whether to watch the Bad Boy Movers Pinstripe Bowl or the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl … This is the sewer that American college football has become: I’m transferring next year to another school that will pay my way so I’m not playing in this year’s Bowl game for the school that is now paying my way … In Canada, where we normally don’t agree on much, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander won the Northern Star athlete of the year, the Canadian Press male athlete of the year and the Postmedia athlete of the year. And then he went out and popped in 40 points on Friday night in Denver, as Oklahoma City crushed the NBA-champion Nuggets. Nikola Jokic and Kitchener’s Jamal Murray combined for 28 points for Denver … The sports-writing fraternity is two terrific columnists shorter today with Steve Milton leaving the Hamilton Spectator and Jeff Schultz moving into retirement at The Athletic. It was a privilege to work alongside both over the years … A happy and, more importantly, a healthy New Year to one and all … Happy birthday to Tiger Woods (48), LeBron James (39), Sandy Koufax (88), Vernon Vanoy (77), Syl Campusano (58), Igor Shesterkin (28), Corey Crawford (39), Carson Wentz (31) and Brandon Tanev (33) … And hey, whatever became of Vince Young?
ANUNOBY TRADE HURTS, BUT IS UNDERSTANDABLE
Sam Pollock, the general manager of all general managers, declared many years ago that the winner of a trade was the team that got the best player in the deal.
If that’s the case, the Raptors end up second best by trading away OG Anunoby and others to the New York Knicks for a package that includes Mississauga’s R.J. Barrett, the occasionally explosive guard Immanuel Quickley and a lawsuit to be named later.
But Pollock, it should be pointed out, never operated in a salary-capped world that has completely complicated and in some cases obliterated the art of roster-building.
Anunoby is an unrestricted free agent looking for a mammoth raise at the end of the season. Probably more than the Raptors were willing to pay.
Quickley is a slashing, exciting player — a Lou Williams type on the court — who is a restricted free agent at season’s end. He’s making next to nothing right now by NBA standards.
Barrett is signed for the next three seasons and has scored at 18 points a game for his five years with the Knicks.
Put the contracts away, and OG is the most complete player in the deal, probably followed by Barrett, Quickley and then the erratic Precious Achiuwa and the barely NBA worthy Malachi Flynn.
The Raptors needed a change in look and in depth and clearly the roster Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster built for first-year coach Darko Rajakovic wasn’t working for anyone.
Anunoby is the kind of player championships are won with. He is that kind of defender. He is that kind of cool shooter. It just didn’t work often enough on the same court with Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam, who may never fit properly together.
You can’t complain about anything OG contributed in his seven seasons in Toronto. He is low-maintenance in the high-maintenance NBA. That’s what makes this deal hard to stomach — and yet financially understandable.