Maple Leafs Offer Intriguing Explanation For Bold Roster Decision Sunday

After seven straight games played in goal, everyone knew it was time for Martin Jones to get a night off for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as they get set to play another back-to-back on Sunday night against the Detroit Red Wings. But who would get the call, was the big question around Leaf Nation. 

Would it be the beleaguered Ilya Samsonov, last year‘s No. 1 starter who had recently been waived and sent down to the AHL roster before being activated a couple of days back? Or would it be the 6-foot-7 rookie prospect Dennis Hildeby? Head coach Sheldon Keefe announced the answer late Sunday morning:

Although Samsonov never suited up for the Marlies in an AHL game, Toronto coaches worked with him both on and off the ice from a mental and confidence standpoint as well. And according to Keefe, Samsonov has “done the work…and we’ve gotta give him a chance to get back in and see if there’s been any sort of progress.”

Keefe also insinuated that there was a lot more to this decision than just their confidence in Samsonov recapturing his form:

"It's a bigger decision than just me or (goaltending coach) Curtis (Sanford)," said Keefe. "When you're making a decision like this, it's not just a feel thing or whatever the coach thinks. 

"You've got a guy that's been our No. 1 goalie and our highest-paid goalie, and you've got our top prospect in Hildeby. It's an organizational thing and you go through all the different pros and cons of the whole thing.

"You’re consulting everybody and trying to do what's right for the team and the player."

Samsonov has a 3.94 goals against and an equally anemic .862 save percentage this season. 

But according to the Leafs, despite Samsonov surrendering 6 goals in 21 shots in a 6-5 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in his last start and 17 goals in his last three games, perhaps it's last year's 2.33 GAA and .919 Sv%, or even his $3.55 million contract that's earned him the start Sunday night.