Muzzin Makes the Maple Leafs Stronger Contenders

The Toronto Maple Leafs got the defenseman they wanted. Jake Muzzin is coming to Toronto after the Maple Leafs acquired him in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night. To get Muzzin, the Maple Leafs gave up forward Carl Grundstrom (13 goals and 29 points in 42 games with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies), the rights to unsigned draft choice Sean Durzi (28 points in 26 games with the Owen Sound Attack and Guelph Storm of the OHL) and the Maple Leafs’ first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft (which probably won’t be a high pick).

As THW’s Jim Parsons noted, “it was being speculated by most NHL insiders that the Los Angeles Kings wanted a lot for their top-four defenseman…and…those assumptions wound up being correct as the Leafs gave up two prospects and their first-round draft pick in 2019.”

Related: Maple Leafs Acquire Jake Muzzin From Kings

I’m not surprised it’s Muzzin. On Jan. 19 I wrote about the possibility the Maple Leafs might trade Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen in a deal for a defenseman. Bob McKenzie had earlier reported the Maple Leafs were desperate enough that he believed Johnsson or Kapanen might be included in such a deal. Fortunately, from my perspective, both players remain with the team. I’m especially pleased Kapanen was not traded.

Jake Muzzin (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In that Jan. 19 post, I also speculated that two defensemen might be on the team’s radar. One was the Philadelphia Flyers’ Shayne Gostisbehere and the other was the Kings’ Muzzin. Although both are left-handed defensemen, I thought they would be of interest to the team. Obviously, I was wrong about Gostisbehere, but I was right about Muzzin. Muzzin is now a Maple Leaf.

Why I Like Muzzin

I think this 29-year-old defenseman, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs 213 pounds, is a good fit with the Maple Leafs. First, I don’t think it’s an accident that GM Kyle Dubas has been collecting players from Ontario to play for the Maple Leafs. When John Tavares came to the team, it was both insightful and moving that, as a young boy, he dreamed of playing for the Maple Leafs. Ubiquitous childhood photos of his bedroom draped with the team’s blue and white showed just how powerful the hopes of a Canadian boy playing for his favorite team could be.

I’m sure the possibility of a young NHL player living his dream isn’t lost on a smart general manager. And, I am pretty sure Muzzin feels the same way. Because he’s from nearby Woodstock, only 90 minutes down the 403, he has to believe he’s coming home. I think that matters to a player and his family, and I’m also pretty sure it matters to a team – or, if it doesn’t, it should.

Related: Why Jake Gardiner Will Leave the Toronto Maple Leafs

Want to keep and expand a fanbase? Build a community-based organization, and grow it. Find players the fans can relate to. It’s not too far a stretch to think Muzzin grew up cheering for “his” Maple Leafs; and, I’m thinking that matters to him, to the team and it will matter to the fans. From that perspective alone, this trade is a good one.

Muzzin’s Hockey History

Muzzin was originally selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fifth round (141st overall) in the 2007 NHL Draft. In his career, he has 51 goals and 162 assists in 496 NHL games. He’s also collected 298 penalty minutes (which suggests he plays with an edge – and few current Maple Leafs have such an edge). Finally, he has a career plus-24 rating.

He’s also played in high-stress situations. He has playoff experience, having played in 50 career playoff games with seven goals and 13 assists (20 points). His resume lists a Stanley Cup victory with Los Angeles in 2014. He’s represented Canada at both the 2015 World Championships and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, winning gold each time.

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Although Muzzin’s scoring this season has suffered ups-and-downs, his body of work suggests he’s consistently a 40-point defenseman. After a disappointing 2016-17 season, in 2017-18 he reached the 42-point mark (eight goals, 34 assists) in 74 games. Maple Leaf fans have to believe his currently weak scoring total (four goals and 21 points in 50 games) is an anomaly and that he will score more now that he’s on a stronger team.

Finally, I like Muzzin’s size and point shot on the power play. He’s plays strong defense and moves the puck out of trouble. He’s not prone to on-ice mistakes and he logs big minutes. Although he isn’t a punishing defenseman, he’s steady. For the Maple Leafs, as their relentless booing of Jake Gardiner suggests, consistency is attractive.

What Does This Mean for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs aren’t standing pat. They’re all-in, taking part in the season’s first “blockbuster” as the trade deadline approaches. By trading for Muzzin, Toronto added a major asset that has reshaped its weak blue line. This move should make fans happy and the team better.

Muzzin is a shutdown defenseman. He’s averaged over 21 minutes of ice time per game each of the last five seasons. He’s now probably the Maple Leafs’ premiere blueliner, and is certainly a player who offers measured steadiness on the back end.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Return If They Move Johnsson or Kapanen

This trade is a good move for the team and makes the Maple Leafs even stronger contenders today than they were just yesterday. I’m also pleased Johnsson and Kapanen are still on the roster. I think Dubas was wise not to disrupt the roster by moving friends and teammates.