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It’s not a conversation that anyone was having around the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the season, but the recent play of goaltender Joseph Woll could be igniting trade rumours just six games into the 2023-24 season.

Joseph Woll, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What makes the conversation so interesting is that it’s been a while since the Maple Leafs can say they’ve had a homegrown goalie that `has the potential to take the starting job and do well in that role. However, in the case of Woll, the organization has invested time into the product and it seems to be paying off — even though it is a small sample size we’re talking about.

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Still, as is the case in Toronto, the conversation is peaking as Woll’s play this season has those outside the organization using terms like ‘goalie controversy’ and discussing a possible goaltender move at some point this season.

What’s the Call on Joseph Woll?

Let’s face it, 14 games into his NHL career his numbers are fairly staggering. Let’s also remember that he is just 14 games into his NHL career. Still, 11-3-0, a 2.19 goals against average (GAA) and a .931 save percentage (SV%) are numbers good enough to get anyone talking — especially when it has to do with a team that has a long history of mediocrity in net.

This season, Woll is off to an impressive 2-1-0 start in three games, including a strong performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning in which he stopped all 29 shots he faced and a masterful effort against the Washington Capitals in which he gave up just one goal on nearly 40 shots.

That explains his 1.44 GAA and .958 SV% to kick off the campaign — numbers good enough to have him in the top-10 league-wide in both categories. In fact, he’s sixth in goals against average at the time of this article and while he’s 52nd in expected goals against at 4.18, the 25-year-old is the top ranked netminder in the NHL this season in goals saved above expected at 2.74.

Two weeks into the season, Joseph Woll has been the best goalie in the league. Only 3 goalies have faced a tougher workload (shot volume & quality), yet Woll ranks 6th in GAA and 4th in save %. pic.twitter.com/UfF0gqAXkq

— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) October 25, 2023

Surely the Maple Leafs weren’t expecting this from Woll this early — or at any point for that matter — this season. While the success is a good problem for the Maple Leafs, it does open the door to the discussion of what the team should do with Ilya Samsonov.

As was pointed out in the video, there’s a reason why the Maple Leafs weren’t interested in a long-term deal with Samsonov this offseason and the interest they had in Woll’s future could be that reason.

Maple Leafs Still Have Options in Net

Now, let’s remember that the Maple Leafs season is just six games deep. The conversation about moving a goalie might be warranted, but that doesn’t mean it’s not premature. The NHL has become a league where its teams benefit from platooning goaltenders. Many of the league’s top goalies don’t benefit from the heavy workloads like they once did.

So as THW’s own Peter Baracchini mentioned on a recent episode of Sticks in the 6ix podcast, the Maple Leafs would actually benefit from both Samsonov and Woll being at their best this season — trading one might not be the answer.

Sure, the Maple Leafs have Martin Jones in the AHL which could ultimately help if they were to move on from Samsonov, but who’s to say there won’t be an injury in which they might need the third goaltender anyways?

Samsonov’s sluggish start isn’t what the Maple Leafs had hoped for when they went to arbitration with him in the offseason, but it has given them a chance to get an extended look at Woll who could push Samsonov as the season progresses.

Related: Joseph Woll is Maple Leafs’ Clear Choice for No. 1 Goaltender

Either way, the Maple Leafs have to look at what they have and determine which way they want to go. One road leads to Samsonov as your starter, another leads to Woll, but the team could also look to continue Woll’s development by splitting time between the two. It’ll come down to what they feel is mutually beneficial for Woll’s development and the team’s overall success.

At the end of the day, it’s true that this was going to be a discussion at some point. It just came a lot quicker than anyone could’ve imagined and now, the third-round pick from 2016 — Woll — is forcing the hand of the team that selected him.

Will Samsonov, Woll Both Be Maple Leafs By Season’s End?

There’s no simple answer here. The trade market and the Maple Leafs’ cap situation might impact the possibility of them moving Samsonov. On one side of the coin, it would open a little more space for the team financially, while it would weaken them in net considering what we saw from Samsonov last season.

Joseph Woll, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

What has me leaning more towards them staying as a duo for the Maple Leafs this season is the fact that Samsonov is his own biggest critic. He doesn’t shy away from ownership when his game isn’t where it needs to be to help the Maple Leafs win and that can be a honourable trait for a young goaltender.

That said, we saw Adin Hill come out of nowhere to help the Vegas Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup last season which does make some wonder if the market for goaltending can be manipulated to fill the holes if the Maple Leafs were to trade Samsonov.

Related: Maple Leafs, Lightning Good Trade Partners After Vasilevskiy News

Like I said, there’s no simple answer here. Based only on gut-feeling, Samsonov isn’t going to have mediocre numbers all season and he will turn it around to the level of play we saw in 2022-23. If that’s the case, the Maple Leafs will have to consider keeping both in the hopes of going on a longer run than five games into the second round of the playoffs this year.

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