Coach’s Corner: Maple Leafs’ Zaitsev ‘doesn’t know how to play’

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean talk about the Maple Leafs needing to toughen up, how the Ottawa Senators mishandled the firing of Guy Boucher, and why Adam McQuaid is so good.

Now that the NHL Trade Deadline is behind us, we’re beginning to see how new acquisitions are fitting in with their new clubs.

While some are thriving in their new threads, others are taking a little longer to adjust. Take Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin, for example. Toronto traded for the 30-year-old on Jan. 28, sending their 2019 first-round pick, the rights to Sean Durzi, and forward Carl Grundstrom to the Los Angeles Kings in return. The move was applauded as the one that would bring a much-needed boost to a blue line that has needed it, but in the 15 games he’s played with Toronto it’s clear Muzzin’s transition to Toronto hasn’t exactly been as smooth as many had hoped.

Rather than pointing fingers at the play of Muzzin, however, Don Cherry believes it’s his defence partner who should shoulder the blame.

“I’m telling you, everybody’s on Muzzin… watch [Nikita] Zaitsev. He doesn’t know how to play,” Cherry said on Coach’s Corner Saturday night, calling him out for his play against the Buffalo Sabres in the first period of Saturday’s matchup. “You know what he is? You know what Zaitsev is? He was minus last year, he was minus the year before, he was minus in the playoffs. You know what he is? He’s a forward playing defence. And somehow or other, Muzzin is the guy they’re blaming.

“Remember, Muzzin was the best player in L.A.,” Cherry continued. “He comes here and he’s having a tough time? He’s having a tough time because he’s playing with that guy. Zaitsev is not a defenceman.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.