LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired defenseman Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night for a first-round pick and two prospects, bolstering their blue line with a Stanley Cup-winning veteran.
Muzzin is a steady veteran defenseman signed through next season at a salary cap hit of $4 million. The blue line has been Toronto’s biggest weakness this season, and Muzzin could be a top-four defenseman for the Leafs, perhaps fitting in their top pairing with Morgan Rielly.
“The key is his ability to play at the top end of our defense, play in all situations, play against the other team’s top players,” Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas said. “He’s proven himself over a good career now to be able to move the puck, to excel at playing against high-quality competition and to contribute offensively.”
“I was a little shocked to get the phone call,” Muzzin said. “You hear rumblings and rumors and stuff like that and you just continue on with your ways until it actually happens and everything sinks in. Very excited to join Toronto.”
His departure is the biggest sign yet that general manager Rob Blake is willing to reboot the roster of a club with just one playoff victory in the past four seasons since its second Stanley Cup title.
The Kings (20-26-4) sit last in the Western Conference with 44 points from 50 games.
“I think we’re in a position where we’re looking up every day at the standings,” Blake said. “We’re not happy about where we are. We’re not comfortable with where we are, and now we have to make decisions for the best of the organization going forward.”
After going undrafted in 2009 and signing with Los Angeles as a free agent, Muzzin played his way into a steady NHL career with the Kings. He was a key contributor during their run to the 2014 title, scoring 12 points in 26 playoff games.
Muzzin struggled through the 2016-17 season with 28 points and a minus-21 rating, but he bounced back last season with a career-high 42 points.
Blake thinks Muzzin will handle the transition to the Eastern Conference easily after a career in the West.
“I think he’s an elite defenseman,” Blake said. “He’s going to bring the physical aspect, but he has poise and patience to make plays. I think the adjustment will come naturally for him because he is a top defenseman.”
Grundstrom, 21, was a second-round pick in 2016 and has 29 points in 42 games with Toronto’s AHL affiliate this season. The 20-year-old Durzi, a second-round pick last year, has 28 points in 26 games this season in the Ontario Hockey League. Blake said the Kings like Durzi’s offensive abilities.
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