Maple Leafs have organizational options to fill Muzzin void

News broke early Nov. 14 that the Toronto Maple Leafs would be without defenseman Jake Muzzin for the foreseeable future. As he continues to deal with a cervical spine injury, the Maple Leafs announced that the earliest he will be re-evaluated would be in late February.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs also announced that the defensive specialist TJ Brodie would also be absent for a two-week period dealing with an oblique injury – similar to the one John Tavares suffered in pre-season.

Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

Although the news seems grim for the Maple Leafs, there is a silver lining to this news as the Maple Leafs blue line was somewhat overcrowded following the returns of Timothy Liljegren and Jordie Benn from their respective injuries. Some might say it forces the Maple Leafs to keep playing Justin Holl with each increasing mediocre performance, but it’s also a chance for them to see what they have in the organization.

Muzzin’s return from the Maple Leafs is questionable

As of now, Muzzin is reported to be out indefinitely. While we don’t want to speculate on the future of the Maple Leafs defenseman, he suffered head injuries throughout his career and after reporting he had back problems since he was young, this injury is certainly of concern for the player, his family and the organization.

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While there is no concrete news regarding Muzzin’s immediate future, Mitch Marner had this to say on the news about his teammate, according to Terry Koshan“When you get news like that, it’s quite emotional. It was just him and me in the room when he told me, and it’s sad. Like I said before, there’s a lot more to it than hockey and playing that game, and it’s your family.

Granted, Muzzin’s return to the game would be ideal for the Maple Leafs, but right now continuing his playing career seems to be on hold with his health being the priority.

Muzzin’s absence opens door to organizational replacement

As mentioned, there’s a silver lining to the situation. While it’s not ideal to lose a player of Muzzin’s stature, the Maple Leafs still have games to play and need players to fill that big hole on their blue line.

The trade market seems to be the benchmark for most recent news discussions surrounding the Maple Leafs and while the team has options when it comes to moveable assets, the Maple Leafs would like to look within the trade first. organization to fill the void – and rightly so.

The Maple Leafs’ plan is to see if Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren can step in and take on more responsibility. Stage 2 is to explore the commercial market, but Dubas says they are in no rush to do so.

With Muzzin — and for now Brodie — out of the roster, the Maple Leafs have a chance to see what they’ve got organizationally. This experience, let’s call it, begins with Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin. Some would say that still extends to Holl and what he can bring to the team in this somewhat disastrous time.

But let’s start with the two Swedes first. Their development paths have been slightly different, with Liljegren spending more time in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, but as we’ve seen over the past two seasons, they could both play a role in the future of this organization.

With a well-stocked fullback and returning from injury, Liljegren has started the year playing just five games for the Maple Leafs so far. Still, the 23-year-old scored his first career two-goal game earlier in November and still called it his worst game due to an error inside his own blue line earlier in the game. .

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Still, Liljegren showed promise playing alongside Mark Giordano to close out last season and at the start of this season regardless of his pairing. That said, the pairing of Liljegren and Morgan Rielly have been impressive in their small sample size this season. In nearly 63 minutes together this season, the two are tied at the top of the league in all situations for expected goals against (xGA) at just 1.89.

When it comes to the Maple Leafs and players with 80 or more minutes played in all situations, Liljegren leads the xGA at 3.79 and seventh on the team in high danger chance percentage (HDCF%) at 60. %.

There has been a lot of talk about whether or not Liljegren should get opportunities on best pairing and on the power play – a conversation that will surely continue to heat up as he shows more level prowess. of the NHL.

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

As for Sandin, he is one of three Maple Leafs defensemen to have played in all 16 Maple Leafs games this season. With that, Sandin has the eighth-best Corsi for percentage (CF%) in the team at 55.20, the seventh-best goals for percentage (GF%) in the team at 58.52, which is the best among the team’s defenders. He’s also sixth on the team in scoring chances for percentage (SCF%) at 59.47, another spot where he leads all defensemen on the team.

While their point totals didn’t exactly dictate success, the Maple Leafs as a whole got off to a slower start on offense with only three defensemen scoring to start the year.

Still, the loss of a player like Muzzin opens the door for the Maple Leafs to really look within their organization to find a replacement and for now, it presents a great opportunity for these two young players to play big minutes and to develop in the NHL. level.

Benn, Mete among ice time contenders

The Maple Leafs also have two veteran options to fill the void left by Muzzin — both of which were acquired in the offseason for instances like this. Both Benn and Mete had the opportunity to start the year, and while Benn scored the game-winning goal in his Maple Leafs debut, Mete has shown glimpses of stability in his five games for the club this season.

Related: The Maple Leafs’ 3 Trade Goals To Replace Jake Muzzin

In terms of what they bring to the Maple Leafs roster, Mete is more of the puck-moving option that gives the team an option for breakout play in its own half. Even for his size, he plays a tough game in the corners and isn’t afraid to step into the defensive zone to collect pucks.

That said, Benn might be the option this team continues to look at. Although his debut with the team might suggest otherwise, he is not an attacking option and instead plays a game similar to Muzzin’s – physical, difficult to face and more of a stay-at-home defender.

Jordie Benn’s Leafs debut: • Game-winning goal • 4 hits • 9 shot attempts • 80% expected goals • 17.5 minutes

Benn played 17 minutes in his debut with four hits and three shots. It’s certainly not enough to go on, but if he can play a tough game and block shots for the Maple Leafs, he could fill in well without forcing the Maple Leafs out and making a major play in the trade market.

Understandably, neither option satisfies the desire for Jacob Chychrun that exists in much of the fan base, but it gives the Maple Leafs a chance to assess what they have. After all, drafting and development has been a major issue for this team over the years, especially at full-back and in net. This gives them a much-needed opportunity to see where they stand on this front.

Even if the organization explores what it has inside to begin with, the trade market does not go away and it could go down this route if it does not work with the four options currently available. But don’t worry if the Maple Leafs don’t immediately rush to replace Muzzin — especially with their cap constraints and Muzzin’s future still up in the air.

Advanced stats taken from Natural Stat Trick.

Aubrey L. Morgan