Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin is expected to miss an extended period of time after a recent neck injury suffered against the Arizona Coyotes. Muzzin has a track record of concussion problems, so expect to see the team be extremely cautious when it comes to getting their veteran defenseman back into the lineup.
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You could tell the severity of the injury and how much Muzzin means to his teammates with comments like we’ve seen out of Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner:
Maple Leafs general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas has reportedly been discussing a series of trade scenarios throughout the beginning of this season as hockey insider Elliotte Friedman has reported the team is both shopping forward Wayne Simmonds, and also looking for help on their blue line. With the latest news of Muzzin hitting the injured reserve, let’s examine a few trade targets for Dubas and the Maple Leafs.
Sean Walker, Los Angeles Kings
With the arrival of rookie Brandt Clarke, the Los Angeles Kings have a surplus of right-handed defensemen and could be open to a deal. We’ve seen these two teams complete transactions in the past and perhaps this time around they explore a move involving Keswick, ON, native Sean Walker heading to play in his home province.
Walker has made his way back into the Kings’ lineup after tearing both his MCL and ACL just six games into last season. So far in four games in 2022-23, he’s yet to register a point and has been playing on average 12:52, while seeing a limited role on special teams.
Related: 3 Maple Leafs Have 3 Trade Candidates to Find Help on Defense
Walker is signed through the 2023-24 season at a cap hit of $2.65 million per season. His best season came before he signed his recent contract, putting up 24 points in 70 games in 2019-20, while getting a look on the team’s second power-play and penalty-kill units.
The Kings defenseman doesn’t play overly physical or is tremendously dynamic offensively, but he’s as solid as they come and can make a strong outlet pass, while being able to move the puck under pressure. Walker’s a great skater and has offensive upside to contribute to the team’s secondary scoring. The Maple Leafs should consider swapping Pierre Engvall for Walker in a trade that could work given Toronto’s depth up front and how close their contracts align. Adding another right-handed shot would allow for more balance on the Leafs’ blue line.
The Kings are set with Drew Doughty, Sean Durzi and Clarke on their right side, so Dubas should target the team given their surplus of talent on defense and Toronto’s forward depth which could appeal to the Kings.
Andrej Sustr, Minnesota Wild
Given their cap constraints and the team’s rough start, the Minnesota Wild are a team to watch on the trade market. Specifically for the Maple Leafs, they should target Andrej Sustr as a cheap option to help provide some depth.
Sustr is a 6-foot-7 talent who would give the Maple Leafs an element to their back end that they don’t currently have with his size. He’s capable of killing penalties and with Muzzin out of the lineup this will be an area of focus of the coaching staff.
Sustr’s best seasons came as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning where the 31-year-old appeared in a total of 46 Stanley Cup Playoff games from 2012-16. He’s bounced around a bit since, and at only the league minimum $750,000 against the cap, he’s certainly someone who could be appealing for Dubas and the Maple Leafs. The acquisition cost would be minimal, and perhaps with some regular playing time Sustr could get back to being a solid depth defenseman in Toronto.
Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes
This is the “home run” of the three targets as any trade with the Arizona Coyotes involving Jakob Chychrun will be a significant return. Recently TSN’s Darren Dreger linked the Maple Leafs to the Coyotes defenseman, something we’ve seen around The Hockey Writers for a couple of seasons as my colleague Peter Baracchini has been vouching for this trade to transpire.
Chychrun is a stud who can play in any team’s top four and in all situations. At 24, his game is still evolving and one thing we’ve seen early on in his career is the fact that he’s able to jump into the rush, can skate with the best of them and is harder to play against than he’s given credit for.
The Coyotes blueliner is working his way back from injury this season and has yet to suit up for Arizona; however, this should be happening very soon as he’s been cleared for contact. Because Chychrun is making $4.6 million against the cap, money is the biggest issue with this deal, but it’s not completely untouchable per se. If the Maple Leafs offered Alexander Kerfoot, Victor Mete, a top prospect and high draft pick, perhaps the Coyotes’ ears perk up.
From the sounds of it, the Coyotes want Matthew Knies, an Arizona native and NCAA star, but it’s hard to say if the Leafs will budge. However, given Knies’ name was linked to a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks last season, perhaps Toronto is more willing to move their best forward prospect than people think.
With all this being said, it feels like a Maple Leafs trade is around the corner. Some of the best insiders in hockey have confirmed they’re actively talking and considering their need on defense and the team’s surplus of forwards, the time is now for Dubas to upgrade what’s becoming a fragile roster early on this season. Personally, I’d try to land Walker from the Kings or swing for the fences with a deal for Chychrun.