It may be easier said than done. Facilitating any trade in the hard salary cap era is not easy. However, Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas should do whatever it takes to hold onto Rasmus Sandin, even if it means trading Jake Muzzin.
Dubas’ loyalty will be questioned this offseason, as he’s known both players for many years, dating back to their junior careers with the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds. At this point, however, it will likely come down to one or the other, and if it was up to me, Muzzin would be shipped out before July 13, when free agency opens.
Several Teams Could Use Muzzin’s Experience
The 33-year-old stay-at-home defenseman battled some serious injuries in 2021-22, including two concussions that were very close together. The Maple Leafs love Muzzin’s game and won’t be looking to get rid of him for nothing, even though they are desperate for salary cap space and could really use the $5.6 million he will be paid this season and next.
Muzzin is not getting any faster, and in the past two seasons, there have been times when he’s looked a step behind. With Mark Giordano signed for two more seasons, it now makes sense to test the market for Muzzin’s value and cash in at a very opportune time. A time when the club needs a starting goaltender and a second-line left-winger. A package starting with Muzzin and a prospect or two should open the door to some serious possibilities.
Sandin’s Ceiling Too High to Move
The former first-round pick is only 22 years old, and he’s still without a contract for next season. There have been surfacing reports from notable insiders that Sandin is worried about the team’s depth and doesn’t quite see where he fits in. Toronto is overly crowded on the left side of their blue line, and it would not be great for Sandin to play on his off-side on the team’s bottom pair.
Dubas and company would be wise to open up some ice time for the youngster and take him off his leash a little. Sandin deserves a legitimate shot on the top power-play unit, and if that’s Morgan Rielly’s spot to lose, then he surely should be quarterbacking the second unit. His 16 points in 51 games last season just scratched the surface, and with his skating abilities and extremely high hockey IQ, Sandin should continue to develop into a solid top-four defenseman.
The possibility of an offer sheet is concerning as management doesn’t have a starting goalie signed for next season and has some other holes to fill, as mentioned, with only $6.4 million in available cap space to work with and many other teams who are likely considering signing the restricted free-agent defenseman. Sandin’s situation is a tricky one that could easily be fixed by trading Muzzin. This would allow the team to open up a roster spot, save some money and trust that their first-round pick is going to develop into a stud.
Muzzin’s Trade Protection Shouldn’t Be an Issue
While Muzzin has a full no-trade clause in his contract until the end of next season, when it becomes a 10-team list, there a number of contending teams who could use some help on their left-side defence. These teams include Muzzin’s old team, the Los Angeles Kings, the St Louis Blues, who missed out on the Ryan McDonagh sweepstakes, and likely the New York Rangers, who don’t have a ton of depth on their right side.
Of course, at this point, the ball is in Muzzin’s court, but at the same time, if Dubas and company approached him with a good situation, you’d think Muzzin would consider it for him and his family. Toronto would be losing one of their best defensive defensemen; however, Leafs Nation is well aware of how much he and Justin Holl struggled at times during the regular season. The two were hard to watch and looked slow and out of position on several occasions.
Toronto would be wise to test interest in Muzzin before free agency begins, so they can set themselves up for a successful offseason. If they trade Sandin and keep Muzzin, mark me down for a failing grade for management.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can also find him contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween