March 28, 2023

With the news that Jake Muzzin will be out of the lineup until late February, the Toronto Maple Leafs only have to look one province west to find what they need. It’s no secret the Winnipeg Jets have stockpiled an overabundance of NHL-ready defensemen, meaning a deal between the two clubs could make sense and be a real fit.

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Muzzin is dealing with a cervical spine injury and won’t be re-evaluated until February, and veteran defenseman T.J. Brodie is also out of the lineup for a minimum of two weeks with an oblique injury. While the Leafs are down defensemen, the Jets have been fortunate to earn their 9-4-1 record without top-line forward Nikolaj Ehlers. He has been out with a lower-body injury for the past 12 games and has no specific return date. His replacement on the Jets’ top line, Mason Appleton, just had wrist surgery and is out for two to three months. The Maple Leafs and Jets have needs the other can supply, and a deal between these clubs makes sense. Here are three I think would work for both teams.

Brenden Dillon is as close to a Muzzin clone as you could find. He is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, while Muzzin is 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds. They both play a defense-first game, are rugged and tough, and are capable of clearing the front of the net. The one difference is Dillon has a contract that pays him $3.9 million per season, while the Maple Leafs pay Muzzin $5.625 million per season. That’s significant savings for a team with no wiggle room in cap space. Dillon also brings a no-nonsense attitude to the ice and has had an excellent start to the season with the Jets.

Brenden Dillon says one of the big changes to the Winnipeg Jets this season is how everyone’s role is clear. The rugged defenceman played his to a tee in Tuesday’s first-place showdown with division rival Dallas, getting into a first-period scrap that teammates say played a role in their 5-1 win.

– Paul Friesen (from: “The knuckles of Jets’ Brenden Dillon helped set the tone against Stars”, Winnipeg Sun, 09/11/2022)

The Jets need to bolster their offensive depth chart, and forward Alex Kerfoot would be a great fit. He’s off to a slow start this season but is coming off his best one offensively when he posted 13 goals and 38 assists for 51 points. More impressive was his plus/minus rating of plus-19. Being an offensive player who knows his defensive responsibilities would be right up Jets’ head coach Rick Bowness’ alley.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot Is More Than Worth His Salary

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Kerfoot has been called a Swiss Army knife because he can play anywhere. He has been used by the Maple Leafs as a second-line winger and a third-line centre while spending time on both the penalty kill and second-unit power play.

Brenden Dillon Winnipeg Jets
Brenden Dillon, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This season, Kerfoot is off to a slow start statistically, with only a goal and five assists in 17 games, and perhaps a change of scenery would be a jolt to his game. He would be a good fit for the Jets, who have an offensive depth issue, and his NHL experience would be a bonus compared to bringing someone up from the Manitoba Moose.

Jets’ Neal Pionk & a Pick for Leafs’ William Nylander

Any exchange for William Nylander would turn heads in Toronto like nervous owls in the night. However, this makes sense. Neal Pionk is an offensive right-handed defenseman who anchors the second power-play unit and is paired with Josh Morrissey. In Toronto, he would fit in nicely alongside Morgan Reilly, offering a solid defensive duo who could move the puck while offering the Maple Leafs more depth on the offensive side of their blue-line corps.

Roster updates:
D Jake Muzzin is out indefinitely due to a cervical spine injury. His status will be re-evaluated in late February.
D TJ Brodie has been placed on injured reserve (oblique injury).
D Mac Hollowell and F Pontus Holmberg have been recalled from @TorontoMarlies.

Financially, this makes sense for the Maple Leafs, too. At $5.9 million per season, Pionk earns $1 million less than Nylander, giving them some much-needed breathing room. In Nylander, the Jets would get a bona fide top-six forward who could seriously bolster the squad’s offensive output. He would benefit from the space that someone like Pierre-Luc Dubois could provide, and under the Jets’ new system of speed and aggression, he would thrive.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Maple Leafs would never go for a one-for-one swap here, but the Jets have the assets to get creative. The trade would have to include a draft pick or a minor leaguer. The problem here is a 2023 second-round pick would fit, but neither the Jets nor the Maple Leafs has a second-round selection. A Jets’ second-round pick in 2024 would be possible. Swapping first-round picks in 2023 is what I would find intriguing. However, the Jets also have a very well-built minor-league team in the Moose with a large pool of players that Toronto could choose from.

Jets’ Ville Heinola for Leafs’ Picks

Ville Heinola’s agent Allain Roy, recently told The Hockey News that his client is growing frustrated over his lack of opportunity with the Jets, so moving him to Toronto makes sense for everyone in this case.

Winnipeg Jets mailbag:
-A conversation with Ville Heinola’s agent
-The pros and cons of Kevin Cheveldayoff’s patient track record over the years
-Thoughts on Friedman’s report that WPG is getting calls on its D
-Jets cap hit vs. results
And more:

Heinola was a first-round selection in 2020 (20th overall) and comes with plenty of upside to his game. He is an offensive defenseman with silky smooth hands and seemingly moves the puck in transition out of his own end. He also could anchor the Maple Leafs’ first-unit power play if need be. If Morrissey weren’t on the club and leading the Jets in scoring, Heinola would be on their roster today. He has the same skill set as Morrissey, and being waiver-exempt has made it easy for the Jets to send him back to the minors.

Ville Heinola Winnipeg Jets
Ville Heinola, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For the Leafs, he would be a younger clone of Reilly with the upside of scoring more goals. Reilly has 17 points this season but has yet to register a single goal. Heinola also comes with an entry-level contract, which would be a very inexpensive solution to their current cap problem.

For the Jets, it would provide a real return on a player not in their immediate plans. He is NHL-ready without a place to play. He has basically been relegated to call-up duty from the Moose when an injury may occur. With many of the Jets’ key players set to be unrestricted free agents in two seasons, the writing could be on the wall for Heinola. With the construction of the Jets’ blue line, there is no room for him in the NHL unless a trade happens. Moving him would also provide real prospect help for the future, especially if Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is unable to re-sign the likes of Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebucyk, or Dubois.

Related: Jets Need Dubois, Hellebuyck and Scheifele Long-Term

Heinola would come at a cost as he is the Jets’ most valuable asset not currently on the roster. A trade could involve a similar player like Rasmus Sandin or a draft pick. Most likely, it would be a combination of both. Either way, Cheveldayoff’s asking price for Heinola could be higher than the Maple Leafs are willing to pay.

The Maple Leafs do need a defenseman, and the Jets are currently thin up front. The Jets have an abundance of blueliners, and there are deals like the ones mentioned above that sense for both clubs. I don’t think Toronto will look to replace Muzzin through a trade immediately, but I also believe they won’t wait long if they can’t fill his absence internally. The Jets will be doing the same and trying to fill their voids internally, but neither team will be willing to wait too long if the proper fit doesn’t materialize.

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