The Toronto Maple Leafs have added some championship experience to their blue line.
On Monday evening, the club picked up defenceman Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Carl Grundstrom, the rights to Sean Durzi and their first-round pick in this summer’s draft.
Muzzin, a 29-year-old from Woodstock, Ont., has four goals and 17 assists in 50 games this season — his seventh with the Kings. He won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2014 and comes with a $4-million cap hit through the 2019-20 campaign.
It’s no secret that the Maple Leafs have been in search of an experienced RHD, with management and scouting personnel making headlines last week after attending a number of Carolina Hurricanes games over the past couple months.
It turns out that the Canes aren’t the only squad the Leafs have been keeping a close eye on, as TSN’s Darren Dreger reported general manager Kyle Dubas and Kings GM Rob Blake had been discussing this trade for the last few weeks.
While Muzzin is left-handed, he has experience and feels comfortable playing the right side as Los Angeles, like Toronto, has a shortage of right-handed blueliners on their roster.
It sounds like Muzzin could hop onto Toronto’s top pairing with Morgan Rielly — if head coach Mike Babcock has it in him to significantly reduce the role of an aging Ron Hainsey, that is.
Muzzin will partner with Morgan Rielly and allows Babcock to move Hainsey down to 3rd pairing. Will be an excellent resource for Dermott.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 29, 2019
The move makes the Leafs much stronger on the back-end immediately without having to give up any regulars from their lineup.
Muzzin is more than capable of handling heavy minutes — he’s been doing it in Los Angeles his entire career. He’s averaging 21:32 of ice time this season and managed to put up a plus-10 rating on a team boasting a goal differential of minus-36 through 50 games.
The Kings have played much better with their 29-year-old rearguard on the ice than they have without him. There’s no denying that.
And he’s a proven playoff performer, too. During the Kings’ run to Lord Stanley’s mug in 2014, Muzzin averaged over 23 minutes per game, scored six goals and collected 12 points.
The Leafs may have added a key cog to their defence corps, but the struggling Kings didn’t do so bad for themselves in this deal, either. They grabbed two top-ten organizational prospects (Grundstrom is likely a top-five), and a first-round pick while shedding salary and gaining some much-needed cap space by moving one of their few assets who could yield a decent return.
Grundstrom, one of Toronto’s second-round picks in 2016, scored eight goals and picked up 14 points in 20 postseason games to help the Toronto Marlies win the Calder Cup last season. Now in his first full AHL campaign, the 21-year-old has 29 points in 42 contests. Kings fans could realistically see Grundstrom up with the big club sometime over the next few weeks.
Durzi, meanwhile, was a second-round pick of the Leafs in 2018. The 20-year-old blueliner is in his fourth OHL campaign and has 28 points in 26 games with the Guelph Storm and Owen Sound Attack this season.
Toronto now has just over $4 million in cap space and that, paired with the fact they currently have nine defencemen on NHL contracts, means that Dubas likely has some more wheeling and dealing to do before the trade deadline on Feb. 25.
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