Maple Leafs’ Woll Making Murray Expendable with His Play


There was quite a bit of skepticism when it came to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ decision to acquire Matt Murray. The main sticking point was his long injury history.

It was an opportunity for the two-time Stanley Cup Champion to get back to form, and to play meaningful games for the Maple Leafs. While things were starting to look up, the injuries started to return as he has since been sidelined with a head injury, leaving many to wonder if he’ll be ready for the playoffs. 

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

As a result, goaltending prospect Joseph Woll has been playing in some meaningful games with Murray on the mend and Ilya Samsonov getting some rest ahead of the playoffs. Given how his role has been elevated as of late, he is making a statement that there should be no concern in the crease for the Maple Leafs in the postseason. While it’s not ideal for a goaltender with minimal experience be put into that position, his play this season gives some reassurance that he can be a serviceable backup beyond this season.

Development Was Slow and Steady Progress

When the Maple Leafs drafted Woll in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft, there was potential that he could be a reliable goaltender for this team. He posted some strong numbers with Boston College after his draft year, having a save percentage above .910 in three seasons. 

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However, it was his transition from the collegiate level to the pro game that was a concern as it was difficult for Woll. His first two pro seasons saw a combined record of 18-23-4, a SV% below .900 and a goals against average above 3.50. Since then, it has been a steady progression as his play started to trend in the right direction along with his numbers as they started to improve. 

Last season, Woll was called up as a result of Petr Mrazek being injured for the second time to start the season and eventually got into some games. He went 3-1-0 in four games with a 2.76 GAA and .911 SV%. In a short stint where he was able to even record his first career shutout, Woll was already starting to emerge as a potential candidate to be a backup for the Maple Leafs. 

Related: Joseph Woll Could Be Key to Maple Leafs’ Future

While Woll didn’t see much action after that, it was becoming obvious that the Maple Leafs were starting to see the patience and progression paying off in Woll’s game, as he could be a player that they could rely on in a tough situation. They were already in one at the end of the 2022-23 season with both Murray and Samsonov out, he was definitely put into one given how close the playoffs are, playing in the last three games.  

It’s safe to say that Woll’s stellar play in the NHL last season has carried over into this one with even better results. 

Proving Himself Once Again

After having success last season, Woll was once again in a spot to continue to prove himself. He was already having success in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies, going 16-4-1with a .927 SV% in an All-Star like season. In the second half with the Maple Leafs getting multiple stints, he has continued to show that he is ready for whatever comes his way. It all started back on Feb. 11 with a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but since then he has been dialed in. 

Pierre-Luc Dubois Joseph Woll Winnipeg Jets Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre-Luc Dubois screens Joseph Woll in a game between the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

This season, Woll has continued to be lights out whenever he’s in net. He posted a 6-1-0 record with a .932 SV%– .931 at five-on-five– and 2.19 GAA. Much like his numbers improving every season in the AHL, the same thing has happened in the NHL as he has better results. This season alone, he has hasn’t had a SV% below .900 which is absolutely impressive. 

Opponent Result
Feb. 11 vs. CBJ .900
Feb. 18 vs. MTL .967
Mar. 2 vs. CGY .962
Mar. 26 vs NSH .920
Apr. 4 vs. CBJ .923
Apr. 11 vs. TBL .938
Apr. 13 vs. NYR .917

The majority of opponents that Woll has faced were either middle of the pact or toward the bottom of the standings. In his last two games he has faced tougher tests, going against a dynasty in the Tampa Bay Lightning and a deep and talented New York Rangers team. Both teams played their regulars and he has shown that he can play well against stronger opponents. A good sign that he can handle that work load and can stabilize the team with his play.

With both Samsonov resting and Murray sidelined, Woll’s showing the confidence with his play. At times he looked shaky last season and nerves set in given how it was his first stint in the NHL. The second time around, he looks more composed and confident in the crease. He’s quicker with his movements, showing great rebound control and has been tracking the puck really well. 

With no timeline for Murray, Woll projects to be the backup come playoff time. This alone has put him into a position where if the team needs him, they can expect a strong performance. He continues to get opportunities and continues to succeed. 

Murray Becoming Expendable

With every game that he plays, Woll continues to establish himself as a goalie who can excel in the NHL. This might be bad news for Murray because as the injuries start to creep back, this potentially opens up a spot for Woll to become the backup next season. With his cap hit of $4,687,500, the Maple Leafs could look to free up space if the injuries persist. 

Matt Murray Toronto Maple Leafs
Matt Murray, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Using Cap Friendly’s buyout calculator, a buyout is possible as the first year would be under $700, 000. Though, there would still be a $2 million cost in the second year of the buyout. Even with the salary cap going up by $1 million, it wouldn’t be wise given how they can use as much space as possible to extend Auston Matthews and William Nylander. You can rest assured that this wouldn’t be something management would want to do. 

The more logical route would be to trade Murray and his contract. With 25% being retained by the Ottawa Senators, the Maple Leafs could sweeten the pot by adding in the first-round pick– acquired from the Washington Capitals in the Rasmus Sandin trade– much like they did last year at the draft moving Mrazek. If there’s a team willing to take on his full salary, this could benefit the team cap wise. 

With Samsonov needing an extension and probably going to be the starter next season, Woll as the backup at $766,667 is great value for the next two seasons. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Woll, Marner, Tavares & Nylander

The Maple Leafs have always lacked depth in goal from their prospect pool. With a home-grown talent within the system taking major strides in his game, Woll is becoming a name that continues to give the team balance and consistency within the crease. In the event that he needs to play in the playoffs, he can definitely shine in a big moment as he has done so lately.

From his struggles to start his professional career to putting up stellar numbers, he is definitely becoming a player that can help this team for the future.

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick and Cap Friendly.

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