Revisiting the Maple Leafs’ Jake Muzzin Trade

It’s been nearly four years since the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings, in a trade on Jan. 28, 2019, that had fans ecstatic. The Leafs paid a fairly big price for Muzzin, but it has proven to be worth it. Toronto gave up two prospects with high upside and one first-round pick for a defenseman that would instantly be considered one of the most important players on the back end.

Muzzin Heads North to Toronto

Since Kyle Dubas took over as the general manager of the team, he has made a number of trades, but this one definitely included the most notable name. In the transaction, Toronto traded prospects, Carl Grundstrom and Sean Durzi along with the first-round pick in 2019 — which turned out to be Tobias Björnfot — to the Kings.

Despite the asking price, trading two prospects and a first-round draft pick and getting Muzzin was the addition that the team needed to make a playoff push. The Maple Leafs received a lot of praise after trading for a player with his reputation; at the time, the defense core needed someone who would battle hard to make things difficult on the opposition. The deal that was made had a significant impact on the team, as they became more willing to invest in additional players who possessed physical prowess and could complement their offensively gifted lineup. After adopting this strategy, the team added players like Zach Bogosian, Ilya Lyubushkin, and Jordie Benn. All three are tough defenders who play a physical style similar to that of Muzzin, but lack in offensive production.

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sadly, his time spent in the blue and white came with a lot of injuries, which has halted his career, potentially even ending it. Muzzin has endured a number of concussions and neck injuries that have forced him out for long stretches of time, including the most recent injury he suffered against the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 17, 2022, when he and Clayton Keller collided, which forced him to leave the game. He was later diagnosed with a cervical spine injury and will be out indefinitely.

Obviously, Muzzin’s time in Toronto was not just defined by his injuries. He also showed his strong work ethic as well as his leadership, which has been on display from the moment he put on the jersey. Unfortunately for him, he may never get to bring the Stanley Cup home with the Maple Leafs, but at least he can say that he played with his boyhood favourite team.

Related: Maple Leafs’ 3 Trade Targets to Replace Jake Muzzin

Without a doubt, Dubas should be pleased with his decision to acquire Muzzin from the Kings and would do it again in a heartbeat. However, the real question is whether the prospects he gave up in the trade will go on to have successful careers similar to that of Muzzin’s.

The Package Headed to Los Angeles

The Maple Leafs packaged forward Grundstrom, defenseman Durzi and a 2019 first-round pick (Björnfot) in the deal. That is a considerable amount of talent to part from even without knowing the player picked or the selection in the draft. Even though the cost was considered to be “large,” fans can see how these players have performed despite a smaller sample size now that almost four years have passed.

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Durzi was the key piece in his trade; a young right-handed defenseman who has a ton of upside, which was exactly what the Kings wanted. He rapidly became a mainstay on the blue line after a great breakout season in 2021-22, where he collected 27 points in 64 games. In that same season, he moved up the depth chart due to injuries, and when the Kings made the 2022 Playoffs he played a vital part in their first-round series against the Edmonton Oilers. He had three points in seven games, averaging 21:36 time on ice and 23 shifts per game throughout the seven games. He was tasked with a tough challenge on some of those shifts, playing them against the best player in the NHL in Connor McDavid.

Durzi has carried that momentum over to the 2022-23 NHL season. He has recorded 19 points in 30 games while averaging 20:31 of ice time per game. Durzi is part of the future for Los Angeles’ defense core, as the Kings were able to lock him up by signing him until 2023-24 at a cost of $1.7 million per season. However, his price tag will only increase if he can continue performing at the level he is currently at.

Sean Durzi Los Angeles Kings
Sean Durzi, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Grundstrom, a 25year-old forward who is still with the Kings, has been an active member of the team in a bottom-six role since the trade took place. He has played in a total of 160 games in the NHL and has scored 46 points — 26 goals and 20 assists. He is a player who works hard every shift, even though his point production hasn’t been there throughout his time with the team. On July 11, 2022, Grundstrom and the Kings reached an agreement on an extension through 2023-24, worth $1.3 milllon per season, and will end that contract as a restricted free agent (RFA), making him arbitration eligible.

Although his career has been short thus far, Björnfot has a bright future in the NHL. The 21-year-old is in his last year of his entry-level contract (ELC) and will become an RFA at season’s end. He has played in parts of three seasons with the Kings, playing in 110 NHL games, collecting 15 points. Los Angeles is a team that has a lot of defensive depth, which makes it harder for younger players like him to make the team and stay there. Björnfot was recently called up by the Kings, and has played in four games. He could see an extended run with the team as fellow defenseman Brandt Clarke joined Canada at the World Junior Championship.

Related: Kings or Maple Leafs – Who Won the Muzzin Trade?

Overall, this deal benefited both teams because the Maple Leafs needed a defenseman who was tough to play against and the Kings were in the midst of a rebuild. The needs that both teams were attempting to fill were met in this transaction, but only time will tell who “won” this deal based on how Grundstrom, Durzi, and Björnfot’s careers develop. Muzzin’s influence on the Leafs has been immeasurable; his presence helped the team’s back end become a threat to play against, which was exactly what the Maple Leafs were hoping for.

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