Ilya Samsonov recently did a long interview with sport24.ru’s Daria Tuboltseva. The interview was translated by Merdan16 on the Capitals’ Reddit and proofed for correction by RMNB’s Igor Kleyner. The Capitals’ rookie goaltender spoke about his special season in a remarkably low-key way.
“My job is to go out and play hockey,” Samsonov said when asked that he’s beginning to get buzz for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie. “I don’t think about personal prizes.”
But when the conversation turned to Braden Holtby, Samsonov showed both admiration and empathy.
Holtby, the Capitals’ starter and the greatest goaltender in franchise history, is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, but the player and team both agreed to table contract talks until after the 2019-20 campaign is over. Holtby has stated his strong desire to return multiple times to the media and is deserving of a raise — perhaps as much as $10 million per season. The sad reality is that he may not fit in the Capitals’ longterm plans due to how close they are to the salary cap and their need to re-sign the team’s greatest player of all-time, Alex Ovechkin, next season.
Recently, Nicklas Backstrom re-upped with the Capitals on a five-year contract worth $9.2 million annually. Samsonov was “happy” about Backstrom’s contract, but had different feelings when asked if it would make it more difficult to bring back Holtby next season and beyond.
“It’s hard to talk about it,” Samsonov said. “I have a good relationship with Holtby and we have a lot of respect for each other. I think it is very difficult for him now because of this situation with the contract. We all try to support him. He is our number one.”
Holtby has given up four or more goals in five of his last seven starts (the other two he gave up three). After getting pulled during the Capitals’ final game before break, Alex Ovechkin gave Holtby the team’s hard hat award to show the goaltender some much-needed love.
Samsonov went on to praise Holtby for his help as a mentor behind the scenes.
“[H]e’s a great guy and partner,” Samsonov said. “Always smiling. We always exchange a few words before breakfast, look at the highlights, and discuss them. He’s a great guitar player, heard it a couple of times, and was amazed. You rarely see a goalkeeper who plays guitar before matches.”
Meanwhile, Samsonov was not shy about stating he wanted more playing time and wanted to be the team’s number one goaltender. The Russian got back-to-back starts for the first time in his career and played in 5 of the team’s 8 games this month, winning all five games.
“As they say, the appetite comes during a meal,” Samsonov said. “When you have already played, you want to do it as often as possible. But we have a coaching staff that knows better than me how it will be better for the team, how I can develop better. They can throw me out for 15 games in a row. Only who will benefit from that? No one understands if I can play 15 games in a row, even I don’t understand it. Here you need to put your ‘I’ far away and listen to the professionals.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
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