While discussing the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending woes during Friday’s episode of The DFO Rundown podcast, NHL insider Frank Seravalli and TSN radio host Jason Gregor suggested the Maple Leafs might be handcuffed when it comes to what they can do to improve their team ahead of this year’s NHL Trade Deadline. Suggesting the club simply has no cap space in which to go out and land the goaltender they might want, Seravalli actually suggested the team might do little to nothing before March 21.
Wondering if the Maple Leafs standing pat would be the most outrageous storylines this season, Seravalli also suggested the organization’s handling of the Jake Muzzin injury situation is why the team is in the tricky spot they are.
Maple Leafs Have Been Public About Muzzin’s Return
Since the moment Muzzin went down with his second concussion in a short period of time, the Maple Leafs said they expected him to be back for the playoffs. GM Kyle Dubas noted they likely weren’t going to dip into LTIR to make a move to replace Muzzin and they expected him to be back and would welcome him as soon as he was up and ready. Seravalli doesn’t understand why Dubas and the organization did that.
Perhaps it had something to do with Maple Leafs’ goaltending not being as big of an issue as it seems to be now, but going public with the notion that Muzzin was their guy going forward almost backed Dubas into a corner. That the Leafs have been publicly broadcasting Muzzin’s return to the ice and tweeted that he’s skating already is even more baffling. Seravalli wasn’t suggesting the Maple Leafs try and hide Muzzin’s status, but did argue, “why not throw him on rink eight at your practice facility way earlier than any cameras get there?” the insider suggested.
“The way they are playing this with Jake Muzzin, they don’t have the flexibility to do anything that they want to do unless they are trading pieces off their roster. I mentioned earlier this week they’re making a mistake in how they’re managing Muzzin, but they’re still targeting a month from now for him to come back and play.”
What Happens If Muzzin Takes a Step Backwards in His Recovery?
The hope is that Muzzin is fine. Obviously, everyone wants him to fully recover and for the two concussions not to be a long-standing issue. But what happens if he looks good over the next few weeks and then something happens that hinders a speedy return? Seravalli and Gregor both suggest that could be a real possibility, especially since concussions are so unpredictable.
If that happens and the Maple Leafs have approached the deadline with the attitude that they have no money to spend and that Muzzin will be ready and playing at some point during the regular season, they could be kicking themselves. They can’t possibly know how Muzzin will respond and that they’re not using an advantage outlined in the CBA to replace players on LTIR is a head-scratcher.
Seravalli suggested the Leafs approach Muzzin and say they are really concerned about rushing him back and that they want to play this out slowly, ensuring he’s better than good to go when they slot him back in. There’s history here with the player that this is the best approach anyway. When he came back after the first concussion, it was clear he wasn’t himself.
The Precedent Is There To Keep Muzzin Out
Toronto certainly wouldn’t be the first team pushing the boundaries of how the LTIR cap space situation works. In fact, based on what other teams have done and had approved by the NHL, there’s an argument the Leafs wouldn’t be pushing this at all.
“I look at what Tampa has done and what Vegas has done and I say, this is a legitimate injury,” said Seravalli. When Gregor argued that a doctor has to sign off on Muzzin’s injury and is putting his reputation at stake, Gregor also admitted there’s no way to expect that anyone would question Muzzin being held out, so that shouldn’t be a concern. Concussions cases vary so dramatically from player to player, the NHL wouldn’t question this.
In the case Nikita Kucherov was out for the Tampa Bay Lightning, few people questioned the actual injury, just the timing of the return. With two concussions on record in a short period of time for Muzzin, there’s no way the NHL investigates his situation and says the Maple Leafs tried to hide anything.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”