In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the breaking news today that Jake Muzzin’s injury seems to be worse than expected. The report is that he’s out indefinitely. At the same time, fellow defenseman TJ Brodie has been placed on the injured reserve.
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That announcement generated two other player moves for the team. Young forward Pontus Holmberg and young defenseman Mac Hollowell have been called up to the big club.
Finally, I’ll take a look at Denis Malgin’s impact on the team. He’s playing in a limited role on the team’s fourth line, but he is producing well.
Item One: Jake Muzzin Out Indefinitely
The Maple Leafs have announced that defenseman Jake Muzzin is out indefinitely with a cervical spine injury. The report noted that he would be re-evaluated in late February.
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During the October 17 game against the Arizona Coyotes, Muzzin left the game during the first period. After that game, his teammate and good friend Mitch Marner talked to the media and hinted that the injury might be worse than it was let on.
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In that interview, Marner noted how important it was that Muzzin think ahead to a time past his hockey career. Marner hoped that Muzzin would be able to heal so he could spend quality time with his family after his hockey career was over.
Sadly for Muzzin, he’s been plagued by injuries during the last few seasons. Last season, he missed time with three different concussion issues. This season, he missed the beginning of the team’s training camp because he had a nagging back injury.
Item Two: Muzzin’s Injury Frees Up Salary-Cap Space
With Matt Murray hoping to return to play tomorrow night against his old Pittsburgh Penguins team, the salary-cap issues once again rose to the surface. The announcement today, as sad as it is for Muzzin, allows the team to keep him on long-term injured reserve.
That move represents significant salary-cap relief for the team. Muzzin has another year after this on his contract, with a salary-cap hit of $5.625 million.
In the announcement today, the Maple Leafs also reported that defenseman TJ Brodie suffered an oblique injury and would be placed on injured reserve. When Brodie missed Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, Jordie Benn jumped into his lineup spot and scored the game-winning goal.
Item Three: Mac Hollowell and Pontus Holmberg Called Up
As part of the Muzzin and Brodie announcement, the Maple Leafs called up forward Pontus Holmberg and defenseman Mac Hollowell from the Marlies.
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Earlier this month, Holmberg skated in his first ever NHL game against the Philadelphia Flyers. In his nine games with the Marlies, he’s scored a goal and registered three assists.
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Hollowell hasn’t yet made his NHL debut. He’s been playing with the Marlies since 2019. In the AHL this season, Hollowell has registered nine assists in his nine games. He’ll probably be ready as an extra defenseman.
Item Four: Denis Malgin Isn’t Playing Much, But He’s Found His Spot
Denis Malgin has been a pleasant surprise. At first, because he was smaller and had an offensive upside, it was thought his best use would be in a top-six role. And, because he showed definite chemistry with William Nylander during the preseason, he started the season on the team’s second line.
He didn’t stay there long. When Murray was injured, Nick Robertson was called up from the Marlies and Malgin moved to the bottom six. There he’s averaging just over 11 minutes per game. However, even with reduced time on the ice, he’s been producing.
By the eye test, Malgin looks engaged, strong on the puck, and almost fearless in game action. He regularly lays the body on much bigger players. He’s also been the tipping point for the resurgence of the team’s fourth line. Before he moved there, the line was struggling. Since he’s been there the line has become highly productive.
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In Malgin’s 11 games, he’s scored two goals and added two assists (for four points). He’s also tied for the team lead in plus/minus rating with Mark Giordano. Both players have a plus-5 rating. Malgin has only been on the ice for one goal against in 121 five-on-five minutes. He’s making the most of his opportunities.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Mitch Marner might be leading the team in scoring; but, to my mind, his game has not yet taken off. He and his regular linemate Auston Matthews have been productive on the power play, but have not been successful in five-on-five play. Now after 16 regular-season games, Marner has not yet a primary assist on a single Matthews’ five-on-five goal.
In the game against the Canucks, they were split up. Will those line changes continue? Matthews looked to have more jump in his game playing with Nylander. John Tavares has slowed down his early-season success. Tavares needs just one more goal for number 400 in his career.