Positive takeaways for Leafs, Kings in Muzzin deal

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Los Angeles Kings pulled off the biggest trade of the new year on Monday, as Jake Muzzin was shipped out of L.A. for forward Carl Grundstrom, the rights to defenceman Sean Durzi, and the Leafs’ 2019 first-round pick.

Every trade in this day and age is judged solely by who won the deal. So who won and who lost? Truth be told, neither team is a clear winner. This deal is truly a “hockey trade,” meaning that both teams got important pieces for their respective situations.

With that, let’s go through what each team go and what the respective benefits of each return are.

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Benefits for Toronto

Plain and simple, the acquisition of Muzzin gives the Maple Leafs an instant upgrade over what they currently had. Muzzin will almost surely feature on the Maple Leafs’ top defensive pairing alongside Morgan Rielly.

The 24-year-old Rielly is having a Norris-worthy campaign through the first half of the year. He’s managed 13 goals and 50 points in 49 games while playing almost exclusively on a pairing with 37-year-old Ron Hainsey, who is beginning to regress because of the heavy minutes bestowed on him by Mike Babcock.

Muzzin will unquestionably present Rielly with the best defensive partner he’s had in his career. The 29-year-old will offer a steady, physical two-way force for Rielly, and in return, he can hopefully help Muzzin eclipse 40 points for the fourth time in the past five years.

Kyle Dubas has to be given a lot of credit for making this deal when he did. The trade deadline has become less of a spectacle over the years, with teams electing to make their final deals in the days leading up to it. Instead of waiting and missing out on the man they wanted, Dubas was able to go out and get his man nearly a month out.

Unfortunately for other teams in need of a defender, this means that the market is going to heat up and prices will likely rise as a result. Dougie Hamilton, Colton Parayko, and Brett Pesce – all reported deadline targets – could see their value skyrocket after this deal.

While losing prospects is never easy, the ask for Muzzin was reasonable. More importantly, the Maple Leafs managed to maintain their rumoured trade chips in the process. Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen are still in the organization, as are top defensive prospects Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin.

The Leafs can still stand to add another defender ahead of the trade deadline, but this will be their biggest move. There’s a chance that they could still land someone like Mark Pysyk or Radko Gudas to use on the third pairing – both individuals, like Muzzin, aren’t free agents until 2020. The former has a $2.73-million cap hit, while the latter would cost $3.35 million annually.

As has been the case with almost every Maple Leafs move over the last number of years, nobody will know what the organization is doing for sure until they announce a move.

Regardless, Dubas has made the first move to shore up an area of need on the Leafs heading into the playoffs. It’s hard to find any negatives when it comes to acquiring a player of Muzzin’s pedigree.

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Benefits for Los Angeles

Every team has their time to go for a championship. In their particular window, the Kings managed to win two Stanley Cups in three years at the beginning of this decade. While their heavy, grinding style fit perfectly in the NHL at that point in time, the game has changed, and Los Angeles has failed to adapt to the times.

They now find themselves with an older roster and a need to rebuild. This trade isn’t a home run for the Kings, but it’s certainly a solid package for a top-four defender.

Grundstrom has been a winner everywhere he has gone. The one bump on his already impressive resume was during the 2017 World Juniors, where he and Sweden couldn’t bring home a medal. In the pro ranks, however, the 21-year-old has seen a fair share of hardware already.

After being drafted, Grundstrom made the jump from MODO – where he had played a portion of his youth hockey – for Frolunda. With the Indians, the winger was able to capture the Champions Hockey League title in 2016-17. He also finished that season with the most goals (14) and points (20) by a junior in the SHL.

He improved on those numbers last season by posting 17 goals and 24 points in 35 games. Following the SHL campaign, Grundstrom made his way over to the AHL to join the Toronto Marlies for the playoff push. Playing on the Marlies’ first line alongside Andreas Johnsson and Miro Aaltonen, hit lit it up in the postseason, with eight goals and 14 points in 20 games.

His biggest marker of the playoffs came in Game 7 of the Calder Cup Final, when he put the Marlies up 3-0 in the third.

Grundstrom is playing his first full season in North America this year. While featuring in the top six for the Marlies, he’s scored 13 goals and sits at 29 points through 42 games. Out of those 29 points, 22 of them are primary – he is averaging half a primary point per game.

he was always praised for being a hard-nosed player who also had a nose for the net. Grundstrom plays with speed and can win puck battles all over the ice. He’s a 200-foot player that the Kings will love, and the best part is he should be ready for full-time NHL duty by next season.

Durzi, on the other hand, needs some more seasoning before being ready for the NHL.

The 2018 second-round pick of the Leafs was in his second draft after being passed on in 2017. In his draft-plus-one year, he managed 49 points in 40 games with the Owen Sound Attack.

Durzi was in the conversation to completely forego the OHL this year and play with the Marlies. However, with fellow 2018 draftee Rasmus Sandin making his way to the pros – along with other offseason signings made by the Leafs – Durzi went back to Owen Sound. He has 28 points in 26 games split between the Attack and Guelph Storm, who acquired him before the league trade deadline, this season. He’s obviously over a point per game this year, but he’s also posted 21 primary points.

He’s an offensive-minded defender who stands 6-foot, 196 pounds. It’s hard to say what his projection in the NHL is. It’ll be more clear once he gets some seasoning in the AHL under his belt. He’s definitely got a good shot to crack the Kings’ roster in the future, especially as a right-handed shot who can move the puck well.

As for the first-rounder, Rob Blake and Co. should have an easy time finding a good prospect with the pick. They already look to have a lottery pick locked up with their performance this season. That will land them an impact player. The Kings now have nine picks in the 2019 draft. along with all of their selections, they have the Leafs’ pick as well as a fifth-rounder that they acquired from Chicago in exchange for defenceman Dominik Kubalik.

It’s never easy to start giving up top players in order to rebuild. But Blake did the best with what he was given. if Los Angeles has a good draft this summer, the trade will look very good on him and the management team.

 

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