Mitch Marner lays into Toronto media over treatment of Ilya Samsonov

Mike Armenti
April 6, 2024  (9:59)

Mitch Marner getting focused during warmups
Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Mitch Marner has gone to bat for Ilya Samsonov over the treatment he's received from the Toronto media this season.

Marner is a unique player and a unique character in the National Hockey League. Not only is he a superstar in one of the toughest markets - if not THE toughest market - to play in, but he's also a hometown kid, so there's no real escape from the media pressure and the rigors of playing in Toronto. As a result, Marner, at times, can come off as a bit standoff-ish with the Toronto media. He's not always that way, but when it comes to the criticism he and his teammates face day in and day out, fair or otherwise, his body language becomes very easy to read and it often projects out as unimpressed and bothered during interviews.
On Friday, Marner snuck in a final practice before his highly-anticipated return to action on Saturday evening, following a lengthy layoff due to what was perceived to be a high-ankle sprain. This is the third such time this season that a Leafs player has lost time to an ankle injury, with Timothy Liljegren suffering a similar injury against the Boston Bruins in November and Joseph Woll going down with a similar ailment in December against the Ottawa Senators.

Mitch Marner was not pleased with the media for their coverage of Ilya Samsonov's struggles this season.

Marner met with the media after Friday's session and expressed his excitement to get back into game action and help his team finish the season strong. However, when the subject of Ilya Samsonov's Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nomination was brought up, it flipped a switch inside of Marner, who became very protective of his friend and goaltender.
Marner has had some unpleasant run-ins with the media during the last few seasons, but perhaps none where he showed more visible frustration than in the last week, first declining to reveal the nature of his injury to reporters in Toronto and now, his comments in defense of Samsonov, whom he says he's extremely proud of.
"Just like I spoke on before, I mean, I know I've said a lot of times, you guys are not kind to some people sometimes. And stuff gets said about a lot of people during tough stretches or tough moments and obviously that doesn't define one person. And what Ilya has done from coming back from the start of the season and just really taking us back into a great position, being the backbone of this team. It's been phenomenal and amazing to see."

Samsonov's early-season struggles have been well-documented, but around the NHL, not enough of a big deal has been made of his incredible play since returning from his reset after being placed on waivers, clearing, and being assigned to the American Hockey League. Samsonov has quietly become one of the most steady and reliable goaltenders in the league since his mental reset and a lot of that is due to the support that he has gotten from his GM, Brad Treliving, his coach, Sheldon Keefe, his teammates, goalie coach Curtis Sanford and the fanbase, who has really rallied behind him in recent weeks, with the raucous "SAM-MY! SAM-MY!" chants echoing from the stands at Scotiabank Arena.

Marner is incredibly loyal to his teammates and has been very supportive towards Samsonov this season

Marner being so protective over his goaltender just shows you how incredibly loyal he is and how concerned he is for the mental health of his teammates. Marner himself has gone through a tremendous amount of ups and downs throughout his career in Toronto thus far and has really become hyper-aware of what's being said about himself, his teammates and the organization in the media. He knows how hurtful people can be when they don't choose their words carefully and respectfully. Any human being can understand not wanting to be ridiculed 24/7 and not wanting the people closest to you to have to deal with that immense pressure either. It creates a very uninviting and sometimes unruly environment and it's not always conducive to winning.
At any rate, Marner and the Leafs are always going to face more criticism than players in other markets do, simply due to the vast media coverage the team receives, which exceeds what players in other markets receive. Winning a Stanley Cup this year would go a long way in extinguishing some of the more heated opinions about the team and their commitment to winning, but unfortunately, it's easier said than done. There are 15 other teams who want it just as bad and there are no easy paths to a Cup Final, especially in the East.
All Marner and the Leafs can really do at this point is take things one game at a time, beginning tonight against the Montreal Canadiens. The Leafs have already clinched a playoff spot, so now it's just about finishing strong and heading into the playoffs as healthy as can be, as the games will get a lot harder come April 20th.
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Mitch Marner lays into Toronto media over treatment of Ilya Samsonov

Who do you think is more vital to the Leafs' postseason success in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Mitch Marner9012.3 %
Ilya Samsonov51470.1 %
It's really too close to call12917.6 %
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