The Toronto Maple Leafs were happy to welcome defenceman Jake Muzzin back to their lineup earlier this week. They also appear eager to keep him around beyond this season, as contract talks have begun with the impending unrestricted free agent.
On Hockey Night in Canada’s Headlines segment Saturday, Sportsnet‘s Chris Johnston said the Maple Leafs are in “preliminary discussions” with Muzzin about extending his contract.
“The sense I’m getting from the early going here is this is gonna be a difficult one,” Johnston said. “You have, in Jake Muzzin, a player the Leafs very much like — they enjoy and appreciate what he brings off-ice as well as on-ice. But they also have some pretty significant cap constraints.”
Muzzin was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 28, 2019 in exchange for two prospects and a 2019 first-round pick.
The 30-year-old has three goals and 14 points in 40 games for the Maple Leafs this season. He is earning $4 million on a team that has maxed out its cap space and is one of Toronto’s three UFA-to-be defencemen (Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci are the others). Then there’s Travis Dermott, who will be a restricted free agent this summer.
On Monday, after Muzzin’s return from a month-long absence with a broken foot, he said he wasn’t focused on his contract situation but acknowledged it’s “a part of hockey.”
“Being close to home is always a nice touch, especially with a little one around now,” said Muzzin, a Woodstock, Ont., native. “So, there’s lots of good things here and I’d love to stay.”
Both sides seemingly want this to happen. But some creativity may be required to make it work financially.
“From his side of things, he loves playing in Toronto, it’d been a nice fit for him,” Johnston said. “But he has to weigh that against the potential of what he could get in the open market. We’ll see what develops from here, but they are at least exploring to see if there’s a fit there beyond this season.”