Updated: Jan 31, 2019
Monday night the Toronto Maple Leafs finally made a deal to acquire a top 4 defenseman, something fans and media members alike have been clamouring for years that the Leafs need.
The Leafs received 29 year old left-handed d-man Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings, in exchange for prospects Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi, and Toronto's 2019 first round draft pick.
In Muzzin, the Leafs are getting a very steady 6'3" 214lbs two-way defenseman, who currently has 21 points in 50 games on a lacklustre LA team this year. Muzzin was a part of 2 Stanley Cup winning teams in LA, has won gold for Canada at the World Championships, and maybe most importantly, played under Head Coach Mike Babcock for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.
LA on the other hand, is getting a couple nice young pieces in return. Carl Grundstrom is one of the Leafs most highly-anticipated prospects, with 29 points in 43 games in the AHL this year. While these stats don't jump off the page, they are quite good considering the forward depth ahead of him on the Marlies, and the fact that he is just 21 years old. He is a very physical and chippy player, who has a very strong two-way game.
Now onto Sean Durzi, who is a highly skilled offensive d-man, who had yet to be signed to an entry-level contract with the Leafs. After going undrafted his first eligible year, he went in the 2nd round to Toronto in 2018. He put up 49 points in 40 games in his draft year, and has followed it up with 17 in 18 games for Owen Sound this year, and 11 in 8 since being a huge deadline add to the powerhouse Guelph Storm. Durzi is a very skilled skater, who has excellent vision, but will need to round out his all-around game at the next level.
Lastly in the deal, the 1st round pick. Hopefully, with the addition of Muzzin to the blueline, the Leafs will go deep into the playoffs this year, meaning the pick will be a late first, closing in on the point of the draft where the number of the pick begins to matter less.
Looking ahead to how this affects the Leafs lineup, the early reports suggest that Muzzin will slide in on the right side with Morgan Rielly. Not only will this provide Rielly with a much stronger partner, and a much better puck mover, but will also allow Babcok to play Ron Hainsey alongside Travis Dermott on the 3rd pair, bumping Igor Ozhiganov out of the lineup. The shift in the depth charts make the Leafs an even stronger team, and hopefully a bit tougher to play against as well.
On top of this, one would assume Muzzin will take on a penalty killing role with the Leafs, with should only help a penalty kill that is already 12th best in the league. Taking more minutes off of the heavy penalty killers such Hainsey, and hopefully providing more offensive zone time for Gardiner, Dermott, and even Rielly.
Another benefit of the Muzzin deal is that his cap hit is only $4 million for this year and next. Sure, he will become a UFA at the end of next season, but this is a very serviceable defenseman who would certainly be worth more than $4 million if he were a free agent right now. Muzzin adds to the Leafs core for at least 2 more playoff runs, and is a strong piece to fill a hole they desperately needed to.