Matt Murray injury affects Maple Leafs’ salary cap and Ilya Samsonov’s ‘mission’

TORONTO — For the second summer in a row, the Toronto Maple Leafs went out and acquired an injury-prone goaltender in whom they invested more millions and contract years than the other guy.

And for the second October in a row, that injury-plagued goaltender lasted no more than one start before getting sidelined for weeks with an injury.

Maybe you — chilling in your armchair with your flatscreen flickering and CapFriendly.com called up in the browser tab on your laptop — saw Matt Murray’s trip to LTIR coming at some point this season.

Maybe Ilya Samsonov did too.

It’s because of this moment, this month, this opportunity that the Maple Leafs’ affable new backup signed a one-year contract for less money than he was offered elsewhere.

The spotlight is shining. The door has been kicked wide open, thanks to Murray suffering an abductor injury during Saturday’s morning skate that will sideline him for a minimum of four weeks and 10 games.

“I’m ready all the time,” assured Samonov, following his unplanned start against the Ottawa Senators and second 3-2 win for Toronto.

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“Big gamble from the Leafs but hopefully Samsonov can grab the job and run a little bit,” tweeted former Leafs goalie Curtis McElhinney.

Fans needn’t be reminded how last season’s crease crisis played out in Leafland. An overpaid Petr Mrazek suffered three groin injuries. Jack Campbell soared early, then struggled for a long second-half stretch with mental hurdles and a broken rib. Neither instilled enough confidence within management’s walls to be brought back.

Now Kyle Dubas’s gamble on Murray — four years removed from his most recent 40-start season — is looking dicey.

“Matt, unfortunately, in his time here, was injured all the time,” Senators coach D.J. Smith foreshadowed Friday. “Take nothing away from him. He was just hurt all the time. He had a lot of bad luck.”

The two-time Stanley Cup winner hits injured reserve for the seventh time in under five years.

“These injuries happen, and we’ve dealt with a lot of them when it comes to our goaltenders over the last couple of seasons. So, that’s the reason why we signed two guys,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.

Added Justin Holl, who potted Saturday’s game-winner: “You never like to see guys get hurt. It’s very painful, both physically and mentally, for guys. I think we’re thankful that it’s not worse. And he’s gonna be a big part of our team. We’re gonna need him.”

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In the meantime, the Leafs recalled third-stringer Erik Källgren, who will see some work during a busy stretch. But the ball belongs to Samsonov, and the 25-year-old is welcoming the workload.

“That’s why he signed here, for the opportunity. He’s on a mission here this season. Now the door’s really open there for him,” Keefe said.

“We are going to have to lean on him probably more than we would have. We had planned to pretty much share things in the early going here and give both guys an opportunity to get some traction.”

The Maple Leafs, it must be noted, are at the 50-contract limit. So if Dubas were to consider acquiring another goalie, a body would have to move.

What Murray’s trip to the club’s maximized LTIR pool does do is free up cap space for recalled Marlies or healthy returns of buried players (Timothy Liljegren, Jordie Benn).

Nick Robertson scored for the Marlies Saturday and deserved a roster spot out of training camp, but the prospect was cut simply because there wasn’t enough wiggle room to accommodate his salary.

Samonov’s Maple Leafs are set to embark on a five-game road trip next week.

The positive: Now they’ll have the cap space for extra skaters and lineup flexibility, starting Sunday.

The negative: Their grand off-season investment is already on the shelf… and plenty of people will say they saw this coming.

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Fox’s Fast 5

• Wayne Simmonds is caught in a weird liminal space. He has cleared waivers but has not joined the Marlies. He’s available for trade, yet one hasn’t materialized.

He is skating and training away from the NHL and AHL teams at the Maple Leafs rinks as he and the organization decide what to do next.

“We’ve been nothing but supportive through that. He’s played in the league a very long time and certainly deserves that,” Keefe says.

I’ll throw this theory at the wall: If Simmonds is still a Leaf late next week, he gets called up to play in Winnipeg Saturday. That rivalry gets nasty, and we’re not sure who’s daring to fight here.

• Auston Matthews registered three hits in Wednesday’s opener and followed that up with five Thursday and another six Saturday. He’s continuing his career trend as a physical force.

“Auston’s a big, strong guy that can assert himself that way when he needs to and can also handle contact and play through contact and raise his level through that when it’s required,” Keefe notes.

“That’s just another area where he can really lead our team and give us a boost when that’s what the game calls for.”

• Ottawa defenceman Jake Sanderson notched his first NHL point, an assist on Shane Pinto’s opening power-play marker, made possible by a ticky-tack holding call on Mitch Marner.

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• Don’t read much into Liljegren’s participation in the team’s morning skate as he strives to return from his hernia surgery. The right-shot defender is “quite a ways a way still,” per Keefe. Clearance for contact is not imminent as the club exercises caution.

November 5 would be the earliest Liljegren (LTIR) could see action.

• Wrestler, actor, producer, businessman… and sports-chant influencer. Can’t stop The Rock.

A few organic rounds of “Let’s! Go! Leafs!” sprouted from the nosebleeds Saturday, a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of Thursday’s surprise guest appearance.

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