For a team desperate for some consistency on its blueline, Jake Muzzin is now a long-term member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The veteran rearguard has signed a four-year extension with the Leafs, with an annual cap hit of $5.625 million.
Muzzin has given Toronto a lot of valuable minutes during an up-and-down season and the physical dimension to his game is something the team otherwise lacks on the back end. He’s also more of a defense-first guy, though he does have a respectable 22 points on the season for Toronto.
At 30 years old, Muzzin is officially looking at the back half of his career now, but that’s not to say he’ll be finished anytime soon. Four years is a good length for a player who should be effective for the duration of the contract or, at worst, perhaps the final year features a drop-off. Otherwise, the Leafs have locked up a top-four veteran who has provided stability and leadership.
Now, in the short-term, Muzzin’s two Stanley Cups from his Los Angeles days will only go so far, since Toronto is in a life-and-death struggle just to make the post-season, let alone win a round against the likes of Boston, Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh. Having said that, the Leafs at least now have some security for next season, when they undoubtedly will have higher expectations and a new-look blueline in an attempt to finally make a run through the Eastern Conference.
Peering ahead, the Leafs will have Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Travis Dermott and Justin Holl as a starting point for their ‘D’ corps, but another top-four guy (perhaps even top-pairing guy if you’re aiming high) would be necessary if they’re serious about joining the true contenders in the Atlantic Division. Growth from Sandin, Dermott and Liljegren would help, too.
Take away Cody Ceci’s $4.5 million cap hit and add Muzzin’s $1.6 million raise and GM Kyle Dubas has at least a little more flexibility heading into the summer – assuming some other big trades don’t happen in the off-season. Toronto didn’t move Tyson Barrie and the Maple Leafs were caught in a bit of no-man’s land at the trade deadline, but locking down Muzzin was a positive step.