Maple Leafs announce injured defenceman Jake Muzzin won't play again this season

TORONTO — Jake Muzzin won't play again this season.

Whether the veteran defenceman can eventually resume his NHL career remains to be seen.

The Maple Leafs announced Thursday the ailing Toronto blue-liner won't suit up again in 2022-23 after initially suffering a neck injury Oct. 17 in a collision with Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller.

Toronto announced back in November that Muzzin would re-evaluated in February.

"After follow-up consultation this month with various specialists, our medical staff have determined (Muzzin) has been ruled out for the rest of the 2022-23 regular season and playoffs as he recovers from a cervical spine injury," the Leafs said in a statement.

"The club will provide a further update as to his status at training camp in September."

The six-foot-four, 227-pound native of Woodstock, Ont., had one assist in four games this season, most of which was spent on long-term injured reserve.

Muzzin, whose significant injury history includes concussions, was limited to 47 games in 2021-22.

The bruising 34-year-old won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014 and was acquired by Toronto via trade in January 2019.

Often the team's locker-room conscience as a talented core looked to finally get over its playoff hump, Muzzin subsequently signed a four-year, US$22.5-million contract with the Leafs in February 2020 that carries a salary cap hit of $5.625 million through the end of next season.

Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas now has a level of clarity ahead of the March 3 trade deadline should he look to add to a blue line that endured a string of absences earlier in the schedule — or upgrade elsewhere after already acquiring forwards Ryan O'Reilly and Noel Acciari late Friday from the St. Louis Blues.

In a media availability with reporters earlier this month, Dubas said defenceman T.J. Brodie has stepped up to take on a significant chunk of the "hard minutes" that Muzzin occupied against opponents' best players.

Muzzin took the long road to the NHL.

He didn't sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins after they selected him in the fifth round of the 2007 NHL draft following his first season with the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Muzzin re-entered the draft in 2009, but was passed over before returning to Sault Ste. Marie as an overage player and eventually signing with Los Angeles in January 2010.

Muzzin has registered 294 points (69 goals, 225 assists) and 399 penalty minutes in 683 regular-season NHL games with the Kings and Leafs.

He's added 11 goals and 28 points in 72 playoff appearances.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2023.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press