With Jake Muzzin sidelined with a concussion, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to have to rely on a committee of players to step up.
It’s become no secret that since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings, the Toronto Maple Leafs have leaned heavily on Jake Muzzin to play some tough minutes.
We have also seen what happens to the team when Muzzin is not in the lineup especially in the playoffs, it drastically changes the balance of the team’s defensive pairings. The reason is that there isn’t another defender on the Leafs roster that plays the punishing style that Muzzin brings.
Now the team is about to find out what life without Muzzin is like as he won’t join the team on its road trip after getting diagnosed with a concussion.
Replacing Muzzin isn’t that simple considering he is Toronto’s top penalty killer and has been used heavily in the defensive zone with a career-high 63 per cent of his shifts starting in his own this season. The hope for the Leafs is that this isn’t an extended absence because, for a couple of games, the team should be able to figure it out.
What this absence also provides is a chance for Muzzin to get a much-needed reset on his season. While looking at plus/minus isn’t always the best indication of a player’s play, this is the first time Muzzin is a minus player since joining the Leafs.
It’s a concerning trend considering he is in the second year of a four-year deal where he has a $5.625 million cap hit. Even Muzzin and head coach Sheldon Keefe acknowledge that this has not been a good season for the veteran defenceman.
"“[Muzzin] is as aware of what he’s going through and the fact he’s got more to give us and better to give us as anybody on our team,” Keefe told reporters via Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. “So, I’m not worried about that aspect of it. But [it’s] certainly something we’ve continued to talk about.”"
Many have called for the end of Justin Holl’s time on the second pairing with Muzzin as they have been outscored 21-6 (as Fox reports) while on the ice together and are struggling to stay out of their zone.
With Holl in COVID-19 protocol, this provide Timothy Liljegren with an opportunity to show what he could do playing with Muzzin. There were some struggles but a defensive pairing takes time to generate chemistry.
Now with Muzzin sidelined, there is a different type of pressure on Liljegren to take on an increased role with Rasmus Sandin getting bumped. Travis Dermott and Alex Biega will make up the third pairing.
You also have to think this is the best chance for Kyle Dubas to get a sense of the type of depth his team has as they try to plan for their approach to the trade deadline. As it stands, it would serve the Leafs GM well to figure out who will be Muzzin’s partner for the remainder of the season and there are a couple of options to consider.
What are your thoughts on the Leafs challenge to move forward without Muzzin? Who needs to step up during his absence? Let us know in the comments below.