Leaf notes: Samsonov says demotion a signal it's time to 'wake up'

‘Brain is ready. I see the puck well. This is most important for me. Simple details, that’s it, that’s my concentration right now.’

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Ilya Samsonov told media on Long Island Thursday morning it was quite the jolt to learn he was waived by the team to start 2024.

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But the goalie had been clearly off the form that won him 27 games in his first Toronto season, having lost four straight, three in overtime, two to woeful Columbus, dragging his record down to 5-2-6 with an ugly .862 save percentage. That led to time off for a mental reset and a day of practice with the Marlies, while the Leafs were mostly in California.

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“It’s the same reaction for everybody … you’re sad, yeah? But it’s probably a nice signal for your brain and your body. ‘man wake up and you need to get back on track, working as hard as you can’,” Samsonov said.

“(To be away) seven days is a long time. We’re like a family, everybody, you know. The locker room is your second family. I’m happy to see everybody.

“Brain is ready. I see the puck well. This is most important for me. Simple details, that’s it, that’s my concentration right now.”

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But him backing up Martin Jones against the Isles on Thursday might be just a temporary respite from inaction. Dennis Hildeby, the rookie who was recalled in Samsonov’s reset, was in line to play Friday for the Marlies, a possible primer to his NHL debut in the second of a back-to-back Sunday at home versus Detroit.

Samsonov did not want to talk about the possibility of him playing for the Marlies, who are about to leave on a lengthy road trip.


Keith Pelley won’t formally take office as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s new CEO until April – begging the question where the hockey team will be sitting then?

If kayoed in the first round of the playoffs later that month, it won’t be a good look for Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, coming up on 10 years in his position and under his fourth CEO. The Leafs are shooting for their third consecutive 50-win season and finally got past the first-round last spring, a feat largely undermined by a quick exit in their next series.

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Pelley, likely to be far more ‘hands-on’ with personnel decisions than his two predecessors since Tim Leiweke, will want to see signs of progress under Shanahan. Coincidentally, Pelley and Shanahan are both from Etobicoke.

For now, there was a cordial welcome for Pelley with Thursday’s official announcement, though he still has business to complete as CEO of golf’s European Tour Group.

“Today is a very proud day for MLSE as we are able to welcome home one of our industry’s most accomplished sports, entertainment and media leaders,” MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum stated, “to steer the company moving forward and build on its successes.”

Pelley, who has held high positions with both of MLSE’s principal owners, Rogers and Bell, said “I am extremely grateful to MLSE for the chance to return. This was one opportunity I simply could not resist because of what this city and its teams (Leafs, Raptors, Argos, TFC) mean to me.”

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Interim CEO Cynthia Devine will stay at her post until April.


Winger Matthew Knies, who had to be helped off the ice at Wednesday’s practice when he hurt his knee, took the Thursday morning skate and pronounced himself ready to play.

“Just a really awkward situation, a stick caught in my skate and I fell back on my knee and twisted it wrong. There was a lot of discomfort. It felt a bit more serious than it was exiting the ice, but I just had to let it settle down.”

The return of Knies meant Nick Robertson was out of the lineup again after coming back and scoring for Noah Gregor on Tuesday against the Sharks when the latter was sidelined by the flu.


If you live around Laval, Que., and see someone in a Leafs sweater, chances are it’s a relative of Simon Benoit.

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Though it’s staunch Canadiens’ country, the Benoits have gone blue and white since Simon signed with Toronto, earned a full-time job on defence and instant popularity for solid play, hard hits and the odd scrap.

“My family, they’ve switched now, we’re Leafers,” Benoit quipped this week. “I sent them a couple of caps and jerseys (with his No. 2).

“When you grow up around Montreal, it’s hard to say you are not a Canadiens fan. I was, my favourite player was P.K. Subban, the big guy in that era.

“But I think my family is happy because I’m happy, that’s the most important thing. They don’t really care where I play.”

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