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Muzzin trade fills key need at defenseman for Maple Leafs

Toronto adds veteran without giving up top prospects to Kings

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs needed a defenseman. That was no secret to the fans or general manager Kyle Dubas, who had been discussing a trade to bring in Jake Muzzin with Los Angeles Kings general manager Rob Blake for at least two weeks.

On Monday, the Maple Leafs landed their man.

"I just thought it was the perfect fit for us," Dubas said Monday.

"It's his ability to play at the top end of our defense, play in all situations, play against the other team's top players. He's proven over his career to move the puck and play against high-quality opponents." 

 

[RELATED: Muzzin traded to Maple Leafs by Kings]

 

The trade checks off multiple boxes on the Maple Leafs' wish list.

First off, his ability to slide into a top-two role adds depth to a group that desperately needed it.

Video: How Muzzin trade helps Maple Leafs moving forward

Dubas acknowledged what much of the hockey world already knows: Morgan Rielly has become a legitimate No. 1 defenseman. He is third in scoring among NHL defensemen with 50 points (13 goals, 37 assists), two behind Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames and five behind Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks.

Muzzin is expected to step in and partner with Rielly, giving the Maple Leafs a first pair that can contribute to the score sheet while keeping opponents off of it. He covets logging shutdown minutes against top forwards; he has three 40-plus point seasons in the past four; and he sees significant time on the penalty kill and power play.

Ron Hainsey, Rielly's longtime partner, likely will drop down to the third pair alongside Travis Dermott. Hainsey is 37 and can provide stay-at-home stability for the 22-year-old Dermott, who is inexperienced but talented.

Video: TOR@FLA: Hainsey wires home one-timer from blue line

The second pair of Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev will stay intact. Gardiner has struggled in the past month and has been the object of boos from the home fans at Scotiabank Arena.

Gardiner can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and Dubas said last month that re-signing him could be difficult. With forwards Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner eligible to become restricted free agents at the same time, there is only so much money to go around.

If Gardiner does leave, the Maple Leafs have some short-term insurance in Muzzin, whose contract runs through the 2019-20 season. No rent-a-player here.

Video: TOR@BUF: Gardiner nets Tavares' superb feed

Another plus: The Maple Leafs didn't have to give up one of their top-rated prospects in the trade.

Muzzin was acquired by the Maple Leafs in a trade with the Kings for forward Carl Grundstrom, the rights to defenseman Sean Durzi and a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Neither Grundstrom nor Durzi was in Toronto's immediate plans; the pick is likely going to come at the lower end of the first round since the Maple Leafs appear ticketed for a top 10 finish in the standings.

Since Dubas became general manager on May 11, 2018, Toronto has added John Tavares and Muzzin to an already talented roster.

Tavares was considered the big fish on the unrestricted free agent market last summer, and the Maple Leafs landed him. The veteran forward signed a seven-year, $77 million contract (average annual value $11 million) July 1 to join the team he grew up cheering for.

Muzzin was thought to be one of the top defensemen available leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25. On Monday, the Maple Leafs got him.

They have accomplished all of this in 262 days since the 32-year-old GM took the job.

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