If you’ve seen Jake Muzzin’s name pop up a lot around the online Leafs community in the last number of years, it’s because he’s been constantly linked to hockey’s recent analytics movement and Toronto has had their own renaissance in that area over the same timeline. Muzzin, usually compared alongside his more name-recognized teammate Drew Doughty, has been a classic case of people looking to see more than just the boxcar numbers or counting stats like simple points production. In other words, he was one of the earliest appointed kings of Corsi – a player who gets things going in the right direction and tilts the ice puck possession-wise.
In essence, he’s exactly what the Leafs need from a ‘run of play’ perspective, but we need to remind ourselves that Muzzin has been no slouch production-wise in his own right. And joining a team like the one now assembled in Toronto, there’s a strong chance he finds an offensive gear as good or even better than he has to date.
The funny thing about being such a possession stats darling over the last number of years is that people may have lost sight of the fact Muzzin has cracked over 40 points in three of the last four seasons. He’s evidently got a bit of a mean streak in him as well, which probably means it’ll be hard to find an analyst or Leafs supporter from any generation who doesn’t have a positive stance over this deal. He really does it all.
But what Muzzin, a superb transitional player, was brought in to do is elevate a Leafs defence that has been at best barely average, and until now has made a lot of people nervous about how they could fare in the playoffs against an opponent like the Bruins or Lightning. He isn’t that perfect-fit right-hander, but when this sort of talent is out there, you have to go get it.
Muzzin bolsters the entire blue-line by giving the Leafs some much better looks as far as their top two pairings go. Early word is that Babcock will likely use him on his off-side with Morgan Rielly, but even if he doesn’t, we could see the long-dreamt-of Rielly-Gardiner pairing with Muzzin slotting in with Zaitsev. Either way, the Leafs look far stronger on the back end than they did yesterday, and it’s impossible to argue otherwise; Toronto just added a top-pairing tier defenceman without subtracting anything from their roster. This also forces Babcock to switch things up with what’s become a group of extremely stale duos back there, so that breath of fresh air will be nice if we get to see it as early as Friday.
As you can see, Muzzin has been the only Kings defenceman keeping himself above water this season on an absolutely putrid hockey team. The change of scenery will no doubt be welcomed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see his numbers from years past show themselves with Toronto. After all, he is still 29-years-old and while the aging curve is going to hit him like it does anyone, there is plenty of high-caliber hockey left in this guy.
And that gets into the other major plus in this trade: Muzzin is good, but he’s also relatively cheap, and cost-controlled for another full season beyond this one. Carrying $4.00-million AAV to 2020, his contract conveniently replaces Jake Gardiner’s almost identically if the latter decides to go to free agency and price out Toronto (which he almost surely will). For now though, we get to see them both in blue and white.
i have gardiner and muzzin as basically equal in value
one is going to cost $4M next year
one will not
big boost to the blue-line this year and a money-saver next year
— dom luszczyszyn 👀 (@domluszczyszyn) January 29, 2019
Cut it however many ways you want, the Leafs made a nearly-perfect deal for this team, as it is right now. It helps them today, it helps them next season, and they didn’t unload either of their two most notable prospects in Liljegren or Sandin to get it done.
And that isn’t to say the Kings got fleeced by any means. For a team desperately needing to hit reset, they wisely cut the cord quick with one of their more valuable assets and got a nice return of futures. From the Toronto end, Dubas had to give up something good to get something good, and the way it all shook out should have everyone feeling confident.