It seems Jake Muzzin’s stay with the Toronto Maple Leafs is likely to last more than 15 months.
According to reports from all the big insiders, both sides are interested in extending their partnership, and the team and Muzzin’s representatives apparently have plans to exchange information and asks in some type of formal setting sooner rather than later.
As arguably the highest performing defenseman on the roster this season, keeping Muzzin is obviously preferred to the alternative. But the success or failure of a prospective agreement, as it does with every contract signed in the NHL, will hinge on the details of the deal.
Still there’s enough information to offer up some basic analysis. Here’s what a potential Muzzin extension would mean to the Maple Leafs:
Muzzin has had an undeniably positive influence in his 70 games with the blue and white. The common denominator for the organization in any shutdown iteration, Muzzin has shown the ability to turn tough minutes into positive minutes. Assisting in controlling shots and scoring chances at near-elite levels, the Leafs own 56.4 percent of the goals scored at even strength when the rugged left-shot defenseman is patrolling the ice. Considering the context of competition, it’s the most impressive goal share on the Leafs save for Zach Hyman, who’s ahead by a full percentage point while also commonly competing with elite members of the opposition. In addition, Muzzin has 30 points in those 70 games and near-1500 minutes, which is in line with his career production rate and a reasonable standard expected from a secondary role on the blue line.
There are also unmeasurable contributions from Muzzin. While has not worn a letter, Muzzin has been lauded from one coaching regime to the next for his leadership qualities and ability to bring players together — be it inside or outside the professional setting.
At 30 years old, and with 10 seasons of professional tread on the tires, it’s possible that Muzzin’s dominance dwindles throughout the life of the agreement he’s expected to eventually sign, but he has not offered indications of decline to this point.
Toronto should feel comfortable signing an agreement up to four or maybe five years, but anything beyond that will certainly carry with it some risk.
The contractual impact
Entering the season with just a single defenseman under contract for the upcoming season, many assumed that sweeping change would be brought to the unit next season. But assuming the Muzzin deal is brokered, almost all the pieces to the puzzle would be in place. Previous uncertainties, Justin Holl and Rasmus Sandin, have each emerged has key pieces moving forward, and now both have contracts for next season after Holl was extended last month. Meanwhile Morgan Rielly will still have two years remaining as that lone contributor on a non-expiring contract, and Travis Dermott will have to sign a reasonably-valued restricted free agent deal based on his performance this season.
Assuming Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci do indeed find new organizations this summer, it will open up $7.25 million for the Leafs to allocate elsewhere. That number drops to roughly $4 million when accounting for the Holl raise and the eventual (and estimated) pay increase for Dermott. Still, it will be more than enough to comfortably award at 50 percent pay increase on Muzzin’s current $4 million salary. Then with the cap parameters potentially expanding, it might be enough to introduce a potential impact player to the right side of the blue line without the Leafs having to sacrifice a forward from their middle class.
It would set up the Leafs with something that looks like this moving forward:
Rielly-$4 million addition
The expansion draft
The process won’t be so kind to the Maple Leafs this time around. Barring an unplanned and unfortunate performance decrease, Muzzin will have to be one of the three defenseman safeguarded through the process along with Morgan Rielly. That would leave as single protected slot for Travis Dermott, Justin Holl and any addition to the unit contributing on a standard contract.
Be it a forward outside the top seven or a key piece from the defensive corps, the Leafs are set up to lose a valuable asset through the expansion process, with their potentially prolonged partnership with Muzzin only underscoring that, not triggering it.
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