While the focus right now for the Toronto Maple Leafs has to be on how they can improve their defense for this season, general manager Kyle Dubas also has to keep one eye on the future. The team has four key defensemen scheduled for free agency at the end of the season, with Jake Muzzin, Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci all unrestricted. The team apparently is looking for players that aren’t just pure rentals in trade, but at least one of their free agents might want to stick around. Muzzin spoke to reporters at today’s morning skate after he was recalled from a recent conditioning stint (via TSN):
The organization, the way they look after us. The guys here the buzz in the city about hockey is huge. Being close to home is always a nice touch, especially with a little one around now. There’s lots of good things here and I’d love to stay.
Muzzin, 30, is from Woodstock, Ontario, just a couple of hours down the highway from Toronto. He played most of his career to this point about as far away as you can possibly get with the Los Angeles Kings, but came to the Maple Leafs last season. A stabilizing presence on the blue line, his current five-year, $20MM deal will expire at the end of June.
If the team wants to keep one of their pending UFA defensemen, Muzzin might make the most sense. While Barrie and Ceci are both right-handed—which has been the weaker side of the Maple Leafs’ group in recent years—the former may be too expensive while the latter has struggled. Muzzin meanwhile could be right in the sweet spot in terms of salary demands, though they already have three other left-handers—Morgan Rielly, Travis Dermott and Rasmus Sandin. With Muzzin’s return tonight the team will keep Sandin in the lineup, perhaps trying out what the group could look like in a year’s time.
The veteran defenseman was also asked about the potential availability of Alec Martinez, a former partner of his with the Kings:
Oh really? I mean he’s a great, great defender. I know him well, I played with him for a long time. You know whatever happens, happens, I don’t know.