Reda: Toronto Maple Leafs have three defencemen, Muzzin, Barrie, and Ceci, all averaging over 20 minutes per game, all on expiring contracts. Any progress on any of those fronts?
Bob McKenzie: Well there’s no question Jake Muzzin’s on record saying he’d like to come back and stay with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And I think there’s no question, I think, that the Toronto Maple Leafs want Jake Muzzin back, for both sides, under the right set of circumstances.
We reported last week that there have been some preliminary discussions. We expect that to pick up in the days to come, when there is an expectation that the Leafs management will be meeting with Muzzin’s rep to try and further those contract talks.
Too soon to say exactly where it’ll go but, as I said, both sides want to get something done, so this is the next logical step.
This comes on the heels of the totally unsurprising news that the Leafs are looking to do another Muzzin-type trade this season.
The simple truth is, there are more lefties than righties on the Leafs and in general, and adding a defender to play the right side is not going to be easy. But in the interim, re-signing Jake Muzzin is makes a lot of sense.
The Leafs have clearly got a future NHL regular in Rasmus Sandin on the left side, and Morgan Rielly is not going anywhere, not on a discount deal for two more years at only $5 million. Their third left-shooter is Travis Dermott, who needs a new deal, but is still an RFA without arbitration rights, so he’s also not going anywhere either. On top of that, they have the left-shooting Martin Marincin for one more year at a super-reasonable $700,000.
It might seem like Muzzin is surplus to requirements, and that the requirements are for a right-shooter to play with Rielly, but looked at another way, a new Muzzin deal is imperative. That way is this: Are any of those other guys any good at defending?
The answer ranges from not really to not yet.
What the Leafs actually need is Jake Muzzin locked up for the rest of his peak years and an identical contract for his right-shooting twin Kaje Zummin. Until the Leafs find the elusive Kaje, having both Marincin and Dermott who are capable of playing the right side, and who are much better lower in the lineup, is the cushion against injury, something we understand the need for with Muzzin just back in the lineup and Rielly out of it.
Muzzin is currently finishing a contract he signed in October of 2014 with the Kings for $4 million AAV over five years. That was a reasonable deal in those days for a player who was starting his second year of full time NHL hockey. He was, then, who Travis Dermott is now, but with much higher hopes for his future value.
In 2014, the salary cap was $69 million, and while it went up to $71.4 by the time Muzzin’s deal took effect, at the time of signing it was only 85% of what it is now. In other words, Muzzin is not re-signing for an AAV that starts with a 4.
Last summer Evolving Wild put out some contract predictions that are based on the kind of historical contracts that have been awarded to similar players, adjusted for a rising salary cap. Their projection at that time had Muzzin at a hair over $6 million on a five-year term.
And that is exactly the kind of deal we should be expecting. It will be a longer term than everyone wants, and it will be a bigger AAV than people imagine is fair.
Some recent defender signings are very telling:
- Marcus Pettersson, Penguins - 5 by $4.025 (projection was $3.251)
- Rasmus Andersson, Flames - 6 by $4.55 (projection was $3.425)
- Roman Josi, Predators - 8 by $9.059 (projection was $8.685)
- Justin Faulk, Blues - 7 by $6.5 (projection was $7)
- Jared Spurgeon, Wild - 7 by $7.575 (projection was $7.128)
- Josh Morrissey, Jets - 8 by $6.25 (projection was $6.158)
- Jacob Trouba, Rangers - 7 by $8 (projection was $6.873)
You get the picture. The projections for established NHL defenders are more often lowball now than they are too high.
There’s no reason to think that Muzzin is going to offer a big discount to Toronto and have anything but an AAV that begins with a 6. And depending on the term, although five years seems most plausible, it could be inching closer to the Nylander deal. The only thing holding him back from the really big money is that he’s not anything other than an emergency replacement on the power play.
What Muzzin has going for him is not just his actual desire to sign in Toronto, but his rarity as a defenceman who has a genuine defensive impact in big minutes against top competition.
Negative Threat is good for defence. Rielly, for comparison is a +10%, Barrie a +15%, and Dermott a -1% playing primarily against bottom six competition.
I think the Leafs would be foolish to not very seriously work to get this done, and done now. And if they do, and if they are also searching for Mr Right (still, after all these years) then it’s clear they don’t think the asking price for Tyson Barrie is something they can afford. It won’t come as a surprise if Barrie is never even offered a deal, perhaps beyond a courtesy one he can politely laugh at. He always looked like a rental to me. And defenders who get points are expensive in free agency, while defenders who can defend are often one or two, or even three million less in AAV.
Five by $6.75 seems to me like what will get this done, but maybe it will be cheaper. What do you think, what’s the most painful contract that you can stomach?
Contract data from (where else?) Cap Friendly.