GM Treliving, Maple Leafs hopeful that reset plan for Samsonov works

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If only Brad Treliving could take a stroll and pluck an experienced National Hockey League goalie off a tree.

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The Maple Leafs general manager referenced as much on Tuesday in a scrum with reporters in Los Angeles, during a discussion about the plight of netminder Ilya Samsonov.

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“I checked outside, the goaltender tree was empty,” Treliving said, tongue somewhat in cheek. “I couldn’t pick one off there today. We’ll see with a little bit of sun, maybe they will grow a few more.”

The almost-completely kidding aside — there’s no doubt that Treliving has been scouring the NHL for another goalie — there’s little choice but for the Leafs to work with Samsonov and hope that he gets his game back to a level where he can be trusted in an NHL crease again. 

To that end, though the 26-year-old Samsonov has been sent to the Toronto Marlies, he won’t practise with or play for the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate in the coming days. Instead, he will buckle down with Marlies goalie coach Hannu Toivonen and the development team in an attempt to get his game in order.

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“We’re going to take this week to try to use as a reset,” Treliving said. “It’s a physical and a mental reset where he can get away from preparing for the next game and all the pressures that come with it.

“What we’re seeing here is the ‘mental drives the bus’ a little bit. It’s hard to correct the physical and maybe the technical side when there’s a lot going on (and) I think there’s a lot going on with him. We’re trying to let the air out of the balloon a little bit.

“We know there’s a good goalie there. He has shown that in the past. You have to find a way to do something different and help him. We’re trying to use all the resources we can to help him get back to where we know he’s capable of getting back to.”

The catch is that there’s nothing written in stone that says Samsonov eventually again will be the guy who was seventh in save percentage in the NHL last season. If this move is not a last-ditch attempt by the Leafs, it’s certainly close to one. 

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It would have been more palatable for the team if Joseph Woll was close to returning from a high ankle sprain, but the smart money says we’re probably not going to see him again until after the NHL all-star break. And could you imagine if the Leafs lost Martin Jones on waivers in October?

Samsonov’s dreadful play got to the point where the Leafs had to waive him and recall 22-year-old Dennis Hildeby. After earning some experience in three seasons in the Swedish Hockey League, Hildeby has done well with the Marlies, posting a .919 save percentage in 15 games. But the Leafs didn’t really want to have to resort to calling him up.

“No. 1, you have to look at what’s best for Ilya,” Treliving said. “If you go down that path, you also need a goaltender here. This isn’t something where we’re scared to push Dennis into anything.

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“Dennis had a terrific start to the year. But this is his first year in North America, and he hasn’t played a super-high level of hockey (in Sweden) for an extended period of time. I feel strongly that the best place for Dennis right now was where he was at, but circumstances dictated that we want to do this with Ilya.

“Dennis has played well and now it allows us to see him with NHL shooters. We also want to be careful of how we manage Dennis.”

On Tuesday before the game against the Kings, neither Treliving nor coach Sheldon Keefe was ready to say Hildeby would get the start in Anaheim on Wednesday to conclude a back-to-back set.

Treliving indicated that Samsonov initially was taken aback when the goalie was informed a few days ago of the Leafs’ plans for him.

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“Nobody wants to succeed more than the player, whether it be Ilya or any other player,” Treliving said. “There’s a little bit of shock when you walk him through it, but he understood.

“This isn’t punishment. We need him to get back to where he’s capable of getting back to and he wants to get there.”

Will Samsonov play for the Marlies at some point?

“We’ll see,” Treliving said. “We want to take the next week and step back. Let’s get the physical work he needs, the technical work he needs. Work with him off the ice, and try to get his mind to settle.”

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LOOSE LEAFS

Auston Matthews was named the NHL’s second star of the month after he led the league with 15 goals in 12 games, four more than any other player … At the world junior championship, neither Fraser Minten nor Easton Cowan wound up being a major offensive contributor for Canada, whose participation came to an abrupt end on Tuesday in a 3-2 loss against Czechia in a quarterfinal. Minten, who wore the captain’s C, had one goal and two assists in five games, while Cowan had one goal and one assist. Minten and Cowan already had put themselves on the path to being contributors for the Leafs one day. Losing in the quarterfinal at the world junior won’t change that.

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