Muzzin deal turns Leafs defence around in a hurry

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.

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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.

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(via MoneyPuck)

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.

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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.

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  • Kings2cups

    Whoa now ease up on parade there lol! I’ve watched Muzzin play his whole career in LA and I’mso glad hes gone! Hes a brutal defender that had Jonathan Quick baling him out game after game! Thanks for the 1st round pick!!

    • Bob Canuck

      During his tenure with the Kings, his xGA was 266.49; his GA was 267. Given that Quick ranked 18th of goalies with a minimum of 4,000 TOI, the LA goalies (including Quick) did not bail Muzzin out. (Regular season data at 5v5 per Corsica).

      As the chart shows, he is above the median of D-men from 2016 to 2019 in terms of Shot Contributions, Possession Entries per 60, Exit metrics, and Entry metrics. The data does not support the claim that Muzzin is a brutal defender.

      Also, if Muzzin is as poor a defender as you claim, why was he selected to represent Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey?

    • FlareKnight

      If he needs an elite goaltender to bail him out at times then no worries. We’ve got that covered.

      Enjoy your rebuild. Look forward to seeing you guys rise back up again in several years.

      • Leefer16

        Have you seen the age of the remaining LA lineup?

        Forwards: 6 players 30+ yo
        Defense: 2 players 30+ yo
        Goal: 1 player 30+ yo

        Why in the world did Blake sign Kovalchuk when he already had such an ageing lineup? Doughty’s huge 8 year 88 mil contract doesn’t even start till next year when he will be 30 years old!! Your several years will likely be 5+ years…

  • #27Train.

    I would use Nylander Plus to add one more defenseman and a foward that provides that combination of some scoring and ‘Grit” Our foward lines are too soft, and we keep losing those type fowards in trades, i.ei Grunderson.

  • #27Train.

    Mods!! Why is El Sid allowed to post racist comments (preceeding article) and get away with it. I always thought there were rules we have to abide by here.

  • L.Kolkind

    Well now the Leafs have a really solid top 4 D. I’m typically a Flames fan, but this acquisition was huge. I think Muzzin is well worth the price paid and Toronto should be a strong contender now.

  • Matmarwill

    This looks like a good trade. A top 2 defenseman at a decent rate for another season. Muzz can play in all situations against top players with some grit. Hainsey will do well on the 3rd pairing and still help on the pk. This solidifies the buds’ d, and by only giving up grade b futures.