Maple Leafs’ 3 Trade Targets to Replace Jake Muzzin

After a long, emotional weekend at Scotiabank Arena that saw the Toronto Maple Leafs honour Borje Salming during Hall of Fame induction weekend, the team reconvened at practice on Monday morning, and there was no shortage of talking points. First and foremost, Matt Murray is set to return to the crease tonight against his former team in Pittsburgh, and after his season started with one underwhelming start and a groin injury, he’ll be looking to rebound and show the team what he’s capable of bringing at full health. 

Related: Maple Leafs Were Saved by a War Hero

But, that’s not the topic we’re going to focus on today. The Maple Leafs also announced that defenseman Jake Muzzin will be out until late-February at the earliest due to a cervical spine injury. This was certainly a sobering update to get about a player who, beyond his tough exterior as a stay-at-home defenseman, is also a husband and a father to two young girls. General manager Kyle Dubas spoke to the media and essentially said what I’d imagine most of us were thinking, that life should come before hockey in this instance.

Nevertheless, with Muzzin out of the lineup long term, the Maple Leafs have a massive hole on their back end. For all the struggles the Woodstock native has had, he came in and immediately made an impact on this team, and when he’s at his best, he’s an absolute rock on the defensive corps. It’s not something you want to speculate on, but with the uncertainty surrounding not only his future with the Maple Leafs but in the NHL as well, the team will eventually need to make a trade to make up for his loss. Although such a trade likely won’t happen until closer to the deadline, here are a couple of targets the Maple Leafs should be looking at. 

Seattle Kraken: Adam Larsson 

I may as well lead off with my ideal choice of the players I’m about to list. Adam Larsson fits the bill for the Maple Leafs in multiple ways, beginning with his sturdy defensive abilities and the fact that he’s a right-shot defenseman. He’s not an offensive catalyst from the back end by any means, but he would be a perfect complement for Morgan Rielly on the top pairing. Not only that, but he also makes less than Muzzin does, and his $4 million cap hit will carry him through the 2024-25 season. He’s an intimidating figure at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, and his 39 hits on the season would be leading the Maple Leafs in that category. 

Latest News & Highlights

Larsson’s term will likely kick up his price tag, but with where the Maple Leafs are right now, they have the means to pull off a trade like that, and they shouldn’t shy away from doing so if Muzzin is out beyond his late-February re-evaluation. It wouldn’t be the first time they traded with the Kraken, having acquired Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell in a trade with them ahead of last year’s trade deadline. Assuming the Kraken start to fall off and aren’t in the thick of a playoff race in February, this is a player they should strongly consider pursuing. 

Chicago Blackhawks: Connor Murphy 

There are a lot of similarities between Larsson and Connor Murphy, with both of them being physical, defense-first right-handed defensemen. The edge that the former has over the latter is that he’s got an extra year on his deal, and he’s a year younger. The Ohio native will be making $4.4 million through the 2025-26 season, and assuming the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t competing for a playoff spot toward the trade deadline, he’s a player that playoff teams will no doubt be checking in on down the line. He has 35 hits, which would tie him for second on the Maple Leafs with Auston Matthews, but doesn’t bring much on the offensive side of the game, with only one goal through 14 games this season. 

Connor Murphy, Chicago Blackhawks
Connor Murphy, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The one warning sign around Murphy that put him behind Larsson on my list is that he’s also had some injury issues in recent years. He missed time in 2021-22 with a concussion and a groin injury, and only played 52 games in 2018-19. Aside from that, he’s been a reliable defenseman for the Blackhawks and the Arizona Coyotes, and would also be a very nice complement for Rielly on that top pairing. Whether or not the Maple Leafs want to pay the price for someone who’s had some durability issues in recent years is unknown, but there’s definitely a reward to be had along with the risk that comes with it.

Ottawa Senators – Artem Zub 

It would be somewhat of a shock to see the Maple Leafs swing a big trade like this with the Senators mid-season, especially if the latter team breaks out of their early-season funk, but it’s been done before. The Maple Leafs traded Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa in a 2015-16 blockbuster, and made a swap involving players such as Connor Brown, Cody Ceci, and Nikita Zaitsev during the 2019 offseason. Artem Zub is a bit of a different case than the other two names on this list, but he brings value in ways the other two don’t. 

Artem Zub Ottawa Senators
Artem Zub, Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

First of all, he’s younger than both players at 27 years old. He’s also making less money, carrying a $2.5 million cap hit, and he brings more on the offensive side of the game with three points in seven games so far this season. On the flip side, however, his contract is up after this season, and he strikes me more as the type of player the Maple Leafs would use as a rental rather than try and re-sign to a contract, similar to what they did with Ilya Lyubushkin last season. Nevertheless, what he does share in common with the other names are the factors that made them attractive in the first place – size, defensive stability, and a right-handed shot.

Maple Leafs’ Sandin & Liljegren Will Get an Increased Opportunity 

One thing that Dubas mentioned in his press conference was that they weren’t in a rush to make any big trades on the back end. He mentioned that Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren would get an opportunity to take on a bigger workload with Muzzin and now T.J. Brodie out with injuries. This makes sense, as the Maple Leafs’ primary struggles have mostly come from their inability to produce at 5-on-5 rather than their defensive shortcomings.

You May Also Like

Having said that, I’d be hard-pressed to believe that the Maple Leafs would go into the playoffs without adding somebody to the back end. Whether that’s more of a long-term commitment type of player like Larsson or Murphy, or a rental like Zub, there’s definitely an upgrade to be made down the line, especially if it becomes clear that Muzzin won’t be ready in time for late February. More than anything else, his fate as an NHLer should be up to him and his doctor, and the Maple Leafs should be ready to swing a deal should they decide that his well-being in the future isn’t worth the risk that comes with continuing to play.

Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.

The Hockey Writers HockeyPedia 800x120