The acquisition of Jake Muzzin by the Toronto Maple Leafs has been celebrated for good reason, but the true value of the trade lies in the details.
Muzzin is a 29-year-old defenseman with 496 NHL games under his belt to go with 213 points. He is heralded as a well-rounded defender that can play in all situations. With 40 points in three of his last four seasons, as well as the team lead in blocked shots and hits this season, his numbers support his reputation. He will help the Toronto Maple Leafs immensely.
Muzzin has two Stanley Cup victories in his career and provides some much-needed physicality to the Toronto Maple Leafs defense core. Combining that with his offensive statistics and his possession numbers, Muzzin is one of the few players in the NHL that old school hockey fans and the analytics community can gush over together.
Alex Faust, LA Kings play-by-play commentator at Fox Sports, had this to say about Jake Muzzin:
He’s been the most consistent defenseman from the L.A. Kings this year, that much has been probably apparent from Day 1 this season. In a year where the Kings are struggling, everybody knows it, Jake’s probably been in stretches their best player overall this year.
This much is clear, Jake Muzzin is a top-pair defenseman who addresses a need that the Leafs had to fill. However, the details of this trade tell an even larger story.
The Price Tag
The Toronto Maple Leafs were forced to part with Sean Durzi, Carl Grundstrom and this year’s 1st round pick for Muzzin. Although Durzi is a right-handed defenseman with upside, and Carl Grundstrom looks to be a spitting image of former fan favourite Leo Komarov, neither would likely be considered top five prospects in the Leafs organization.
Kyle Dubas was able to trade for a top-pair defenseman without moving Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin or Jeremy Bracco. Also, the draft pick that the Leafs traded will likely be in the bottom 5 selections of the first round, which is typically where draft pick values begin to plateau.
Considering that the going rate for a top-4 defenseman has been astronomically high (look no further than the infamous Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade), the price paid by the Leafs was minimal.
Jake Muzzin’s contract is perhaps the most overlooked feature of this trade. Muzzin will remain under contract through next season and will only cost the Leafs 4 million dollars per year.
It is no secret that the Leafs will have to manage salary cap challenges next season. Having Muzzin play top-pair minutes at far below market value will help alleviate the pressure to fill a top-4 defenseman slot with the likes of Jake Gardiner at 6+ million dollars per year.
In other news, adding Muzzin likely pushes Gardiner out the door after his contract expires this summer, albeit potentially with a Stanley Cup ring and a new 30+ million dollar contract. It was, however, always unlikely the Leafs were going to be able to afford Gardiner anyways.
Muzzin’s versatility and skill will have trickle-down effects throughout the lineup. First, he will likely replace Ron Hainsey as Morgan Rielly’s partner on the top defensive pairing. This will give Rielly and Muzzin the chance to play upwards of 23 minutes per night, while moving Hainsey to a 2nd or 3rd pairing role that he is better suited for.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the trade will be Jake Gardiner. Much like Dion Phaneuf of years past, Gardiner has become the scapegoat for fans frustrated with the team’s defensive struggles. This trade has attenuated many of those voices and should take the pressure off of Gardiner to make up for the Toronto Maple Leafs defensive weaknesses.
With the acquisition of Muzzin, the team heads into their post all-star break schedule with a refreshed sense of excitement and energy that should provide a boost to the team as they inch closer to playoff hockey.
All statistical information collected from NHL.com
All contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.com