There have been many trades so far this season, but with less than a month to go before the NHL Trade Deadline, we finally the first that qualifies as a blockbuster. The Toronto Maple Leafs have announced that they have acquired defenseman Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings. Going the other way is a package of forward prospect Carl Grundstrom, defense prospect Sean Durzi, and the Leafs’ 2019 first-round pick. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Toronto GM Kyle Dubas and L.A. GM Rob Blake had been discussing the framework for this deal for weeks before finally pulling the trigger tonight.
Muzzin, 29, is a major addition for the Maple Leafs. Dubas has been searching for help on the blue line all season long and adds a bona fide top-pair defender without having to move any pieces off his NHL roster. Muzzin is a well-rounded and versatile two-way defenseman. Although he is a left-shot, Muzzin often plays his off side and will likely slot next to Morgan Rielly on Toronto’s top pairing. Muzzin will also play a major role on the penalty kill, as he is a tough, durable defenseman who plays a steady game in his own end. Perhaps more than anything, Muzzin is known as a big game player, capable of playing his best when it matters most. Muzzin was a Stanley Cup champion in 2014 with the Kings and has 20 points and 125 hits in 50 playoff games. He has also starred for Canada on the international stage, including a 2015 World Championship in which he notched eight points in ten games. An experienced and clutch defenseman who excels in all three zones, Muzzin is truly a complete defender joining the back end in Toronto. Add in that he makes just $4MM against the cap and is signed for one more year and you get an acquisition that no one in Toronto should be unhappy with.
Los Angeles should be commended for this trade as well, though. Although Muzzin was one of their best players – arguably their top player this season – they maximized the return from a Leafs team that was unwilling to move any current roster players. Grundstrom and Duzri are two of Toronto’s very best prospects and each project to be NHLers sooner rather than later. Grundstrom, 21, was a second-round pick in 2016 out of Frolunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League. In his first season in North America this year, Grundstrom had 29 points in 42 games for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Grundstrom will now join the Ontario Reign and could see action with the Kings before the season is out. The powerful winger is certain to compete for a regular job in L.A. next year. Durzi, 20, was considered the top overage player in the NHL Draft last year and was selected in the second-round as a result. The skilled defenseman has been better than a point-per-game in the OHL this year after returning from injury and has the experience and intelligent game that should translate to the pros easily next season. As for the first-round pick, the Kings have to hope that Muzzin’s addition isn’t enough to get the Leafs past likely playoff opponents in the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, as Toronto’s pick could still very well end up in the early twenties. If the rest of Blake’s fire sale yields similar returns, L.A. is going to be in good shape moving into their rebuild phase.