Six potential trades for Toronto Maple Leafs to replace Jake Muzzin


Mitch Marner was on the case.

Shortly after his close friend, Jake Muzzin, left the Oct. 17 loss to Arizona with an apparent neck injury, Marner let the world know its potential seriousness with his comments: he’s coming back and playing this year, or whatever happens, just make sure he can do what he wants to do the rest of his life and enjoy the time with his family, his kids.

It was one of those foreshadowing quotes that said a lot. A player’s life and well-being after hockey is always of paramount importance. Fast forward to this week, nearly a month later, when the Maple Leafs announced that Muzzin would be out for the foreseeable future with a cervical spine injury, which will be reassessed in late February before the trade deadline of the 3rd of March.

For Toronto, Muzzin’s injury is probably the best worst-case outcome. They lost a defender who was acquired and paid to play an important role in a playoff series, but injuries have increased, and at least now they have clarity and flexibility.

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General manager Kyle Dubas said Monday that in the short term, the Leafs won’t miss opportunities for young defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren to step up and seize the moment. In the long run, it seems a foregone conclusion that the Leafs will use all of Muzzin’s $5.625 million LTIR space to bolster a back end that many saw as already in need of reinforcement when Muzzin was healthy.

This is a burn-the-boats type season in Toronto, where nothing should be left to chance. It’s now or never to make a dent in the Stanley Cup playoffs for that core.

So who is available on the blueline? As Senators general manager Pierre Dorion noted on Tuesday, this is the hardest position to trade in the NHL.

Given the list below, Dubas may have to deviate from his preference not to acquire rental players, as there are apparently very few defenders with an available tenure. Teams that have stable defenders are tasked with hanging on to them unless a large bounty is paid. And it’s not like Dubas, in the final year of his contract without an extension, has to think much beyond this season anyway.

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Aside from the obvious Jakob Chychrun, who has been available for over a year in Arizona and is set to make his season debut on Nov. 21, here are six potential candidates for the Maple Leafs as the season progresses:

1. John Klingberg, Anaheim Ducks

Age: 30 years old
Shots: right
Stats: 16 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 8 Pts
Contract: Pending UFA, $7 million AAV

With Muzzin injured, the Leafs have the ability to jump the deal and acquire Klingberg. It was a miserable start for the rebuilding Ducks, who are tied for the fewest points in the league. He’s a good skater and defender, a very complete player who would instantly improve the power play. The idea behind signing Klingberg to just a one-year contract at the end of July as he lingered in the free agent market was to see if there was a fit, but also to realize he is. a potentially reversible asset. Klingberg has acknowledged that as well, which is why he has a full no-trade clause in place until January 1. With the Ducks retaining half of Klingberg, his contract would fit nicely into the Leafs’ LTIR cushion, and if the cap raises him – it may not be out of the question that the Leafs could re-sign him. But the cost of acquisition will not be cheap. Klingberg will be looking for a first-round pick, and more, in the rental market. He’s also the best all-around defender available.

2. Vladislav Gavrikov, Columbus Blue Jackets

Age: 26 years old
Shots: left
Stats: 15 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 Pts
Contract: UFA pending, AAV of $2.8 million

Gavrikov is probably close to an opposite style to Klingberg. Gavrikov is the ultimate defensive back. He has size and reach, he blocks shots and he kills plays. He’s not quite worthy of the term « closed » guy, but he holds his own. If you look back in Toronto’s playbook under Kyle Dubas, a similar style of player was once targeted and acquired in Ilya Lyubushkin, who has since moved to Buffalo. In that deal last season, they also wrapped Arizona’s Nick Ritchie with a second-round pick for Lyubushkin. The acquisition cost is likely the same this time around, and Columbus doesn’t have the same cap flexibility as Arizona to accept an unwanted contract. Gavrikov finds himself months away from free agency on a Columbus team going in the wrong direction. They have already capitalized on the rental market with Toronto and we could see general manager Jarmo Kekalainen doing it again.

3. Matt Roy, Los Angeles Kings

Age: 27 years old
Shots: right
Stats: 18 GP, 3 G, 5 A, 8 Pts
Contract: 1 season remaining, $3.15 million AAV

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Roy is the only defender on our list whose contract is up. Why does he make the cut? The Kings are one of the few teams in the league with a defensive surplus. They have eight healthy defensemen right now if you include 19-year-old candidate Brandt Clarke and that doesn’t include Jordan Spence or Tobias Bjornfot, who are ready to play in AHL Ontario. The real proof in the narrative is in Roy’s ice time. After averaging 20:18 the past two seasons, he has only cracked 20 minutes twice this season, averaging 17:50. It’s clear that the Kings would prefer to leave Sean Walker first, who doesn’t look quite the same after a serious right knee injury. Walker has the same term on the left with a slightly lower cap. But Roy is the best defender right now. His game isn’t going to wow anyone in any facet, but the lowly 2015 seventh-round pick is steady, dependable and hard to shake.

4. Carson Soucy, Seattle Kraken

Age: 28 years old
Shots: left
Stats: 16 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 Pts
Contract: UFA pending, AAV of $2.75 million

Of all the players on this list, Soucy is the only player who might not be available. Still. The Kraken have exceeded expectations this season and have bounced back in spectacular fashion after a tough expansion entry. Their hold on an early-season playoff spot may be tenuous in the Pacific Division, but they’re in the mix. It’s important for the franchise to establish a competitive baseline — and that means general manager Ron Francis and Co. are unlikely to be willing to take plays off the roster. Especially those as versatile as Soucy. However, we know that the teams have already made good progress with the Kraken on Soucy. The 6-foot-5 classic latecomer, who signed his current contract as a Group VI UFA on hold in 2020, was picked out of Minnesota in the expansion draft. He doesn’t have many holes in his game. He can also play on both sides of the blue line, which is important given Sheldon Keefe’s preference for good left-right pairings. For the reasons mentioned, Soucy is a player who could get closer to the March 3 deadline, and the Leafs wouldn’t be the only ones in a position to do so.

5/6. Nick Jensen OR Dmitry Orlov, Washington Capitals

Age: 32 / 31
Shots: Right / Left
Statistics: 18 GP, 1 G, 8 A, 9 Pts / 13 GP, 0 G, 5 A, 5 Pts
Contracts: both UFAs pending, $2.5m / $5.1m AAV

There’s no doubt that the Capitals’ singular goal this season is to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a roster built for winning mode now. Injuries can make this impossible. Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, TJ Oshie, Connor Brown and Carl Hagelin will all have missed a lot of time. And general manager Brian MacLellan may not have a choice when it comes to the deadline to make rentals if the Caps look likely to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014. If that’s the case, he are two intriguing adjustments for the Leafs. Orlov might be the most expensive acquisition, but Jensen might have more suitors. Both are stylistic adjustments for Toronto because they handle the pressure of the forecheck well. That’s important because the Leafs seem to have been overwhelmed by it at times in their recent first-round playoff outings. Orlov is more assertive, Jensen is more discreet. Both are equally confident. Jensen’s contract has aged quite well, while Orlov probably had a higher cap years ago and has seen his game level off a bit, but is still playing at a high level.

Keep an eye on: Matt Dumba, Minnesota Wild.

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