To start the 2018-19 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs were widely considered terrible defensively. Their defence group featured Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey, Igor Ozhiganov, and second-year pro Travis Dermott. The Leafs had the sixth worst xGA at 5v5 in the NHL; and had allowed the fourth most shot attempts against. Something needed to change. Then on January 28th, 2019, something did. Kyle Dubas traded a 2019 first-round pick, Sean Durzi, and Carl Grundstrom to the Los Angeles Kings for defenceman Jake Muzzin. Two years later, let’s review how the trade looks.
Two Years Later: Evaluating the Jake Muzzin Trade
The Pieces Given Up
At the Time
Carl Grundstrom looked to be a prospect that was extremely close to being NHL-ready. This idea was furthered with his strong first year in North America, posting 13 goals and 29 points in 42 games with the Toronto Marlies. He was projected to be a strong defensive player as well that wasn’t afraid to throw around his large frame and play a gritty style of hockey.
Sean Durzi was taken as an over-ager in the 2018 NHL draft. Durzi was a strong offensive defenceman that could develop into an NHLer that can drive play offensively. Durzi was quickly regarded to be one of the Leafs’ best defensive prospects. Along with Rasmus Sandin, and even surpassing Timothy Liljegren in some peoples’ view. These two pieces, one close to the NHL and one that was still a little bit away, but with a high ceiling, in addition to a 2019 first-round pick was able to get it done for Jake Muzzin.
How They Look Today
The LA Kings took the Leafs’ first-round pick (22nd overall) and selected Tobias Bjornfot. Gabriel Foley of LastWordonSports described Bjornfot as “Their best prospect outside of Byfield and Turcotte. Hopefuls [see] him as a top-line [player in] the future. That’s possible, but not guaranteed. [He’s a] smooth skating puck mover who’s hit some small snags in his post-draft play.”
Carl Grundstrom is still the “gritty, aggressive pest” he was projected to be now that he’s with the LA Kings in the NHL. Grundstrom, however, has struggled with on-ice results with the Kings. Grundstrom is bottom 20 league-wide amongst forwards in xGA/60 with 2.96, and is among the bottom 25% of forwards in the league in terms of CA/60 with 56.63 at 5v5.
Data and visuals from HockeyViz
As we can see from the visuals above, the LA Kings are better defensively without Grundstrom on the ice than with. While he is only 23 and there is time to turn things around, he is not panning out as many thought he would when he was traded.
Sean Durzi is still developing at the AHL level. He is producing at a constant rate for the Ontario Reign since joining. Developing into a more all-around player than when he was drafted, there is a definite improvement on his defensive game. Durzi seems to be staying the course that was projected when he was drafted by the Leafs in 2018.
Ever since being acquired Jake Muzzin has been the Leafs best all-around defenceman. Muzzin has consistently been around the top of the Leafs defencemen in xGF% and CF%. He has been able to provide excellent play at both ends of the ice. He drives play in his team’s favour and is able to help prevent chances against.
Very similar to how well T.J. Brodie has fit in, Jake Muzzin seems like the perfect acquisition for a team like Toronto. He pleases both the analytics community, as well as those who view the game in a more traditional approach. He produces excellent on-ice results as well as provides a tough presence and throws big hits with his large frame every now and again.
Since joining the team, Muzzin has been debatably the best defenceman on the Leafs roster (depending on how you feel about Morgan Rielly of late). Muzzin was the first piece of the Leafs total defence reform. Now one of the better defensive teams in the league, Jake Muzzin has been a large part of this evolution.
It seems the return is working out for both teams since the trade. It’s still early for the LA Kings to evaluate as most of their return has yet to leave a mark in the NHL. Though, Bjornfot looks like a great prospect and Durzi is developing smoothly. Grundstrom isn’t the player that people thought he would be. If he takes these next key years and improves, however, it could make the Jake Muzzin trade look better for the LA Kings.
For the Leafs, they got exactly what they needed. They got a fantastic defensive piece for what, at the time, was a terrible defensive group. He is going to continue to be a key aspect of the Leafs’ blueline moving forward. He’s a player that Sheldon Keefe relies on in the dying minutes of a game to defend the lead. He has helped shape the Leafs in the time he has been with them. Due to his style and quality of play, he has quickly become a fan favourite in Toronto.
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