The Toronto Maple Leafs have inked grizzled veteran blue liner Jake Muzzin to a 4 year, $22,500,000 deal. It serves as reasonably termed deal at close to market value salary ($5.625 million AAV) without venturing into the decline of his late-thirties. The deal comes as no surprise, having been reported as being mostly agreed to over the last couple of weeks.
Muzzin has been the pulse of the Leafs since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings last February in exchange for Sean Durzi, Carl Grundstrum and a 1st round pick. He brings to the table experience, grittiness and toughness which tends to be so hard to find in this league among players who can still play at a very high level.
On the ice, while facing the opposing teams top players, Muzzin has been the best Leafs defenceman in terms of limiting shots against per sixty minutes at 29.2 and he boasts a respectable 53.61 CF%. Despite missing 11 games, he leads the team in hits (108) and blocked shots (110). The team managed a record of just 5-3-3 with him out of the line up earlier this season and it was clear that they sorely missed his presence in the lineup.
Since returning from injury, after losing Morgan Rielly to an injury of his own, Muzzin has been relied upon for more minutes than anyone else. He’s played over 22 minutes in 9 out of the 14 games since his return. The Leafs are 8-0-1 in those 9 games.
The contract comes with a no trade clause in the first year, but it does not carry on beyond the 2020-2021 season which is significant for multiple reasons. Firstly, it means that they are not required to protect him in the 2021 Seattle Expansion draft. Second, it means if his play falls off in the last year of the contract, he can be moved without his permission. It’s also of note, the contract is front loaded with signing bonuses and very little actual money will be owed to him in the final year.
The Leafs have locked up a player who coach Sheldon Keefe referred to as, “in many ways, the conscience of our team”, and they’ve done it for a reasonable term and price. Kyle Dubas may not have made any significant additions to the roster today, but ensuring that Muzzin remained in the fold beyond this season was an important piece of business for the Leafs GM. Muzzin will be an integral part of helping pull this team out of it’s current funk and will be a focal point in their locker room moving forward.