It’s no secret that Jake Muzzin struggled quite a bit last year and due his lackluster performance, well, Jewels readers weren’t his most avid fans. Fortunately, the boos fell on deaf ears as the Los Angeles Kings’ upper management elected to keep the Woodstock defender around another season to see if he can turn things around. While it may have only been pre-season and therefore doesn’t count a lick, Muzzin managed to tally seven points in five games and very much looked like his old self, even earning MVP honors with four points in two games during the China trip.
I know, I know. It’s preseason, it doesn’t count! But don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy this.
Ahem, back to the task at hand. Trading Muzzin would’ve been a bad idea as J. James pointed out in his season review back in June.
Muzzin is for real; he has proven he can play at a talented level without Doughty. [...] McNabb is not the great white hope for the Kings defense. And we’re not gonna obtain Sidney “Best in the World” Crosby via trade. Teams will likely give up a prospect and pick, two picks, or a disgruntled forward for Muzzin. This is not enough, and the Kings will have to package another player, perhaps Toffoli or Adrian Kempe, with Muzzin to get someone better in return.
No one is really certain what happened, how a stalwart defensive pairing went from 1.80 GA/60 together the previous season to nearly two goals against per 60 minutes while also seeing their Corsi numbers fall. Corsi is literally just a proportion of shot attempts-for to shot attempts-against. It’s doubtful that a pairing in which one man (Muzzin) had the best overall percentage of shot attempts on goal while the other (Alec Martinez) had seven goals and 28 points by February 21 were probably shooting less, so they clearly had to have been giving up more shots/attempts against. Why? Well, that’s the $64,000 question that no one really ever had an answer to. Part of it was probably a combination of some bad luck (for instance, both were assigned minuses for a Jeff Zatkoff turnover in a late January game), bad coaching, bad systems, and probably just trying too hard.
In any case, John Stevens is taking a slightly different approach than his old boss. On one of the Kings’ broadcasts, Jim Fox mentioned that Stevens told Muzzin he wanted him to keep things simple, be more of a stay-at-home-defenseman like he was before. Before he became Associate Coach and before he was promoted to Head Coach, Stevens routinely worked with the Kings’ defense corps and previously earned high praise from veterans who joined the team, especially those who came over mid-season in a trade. While he may be looking at a broader picture now, it’s doubtless that Stevens still has a knack for connecting with defensemen, especially ones he’s known for several years.
Whether or not Muzzin will be able to return to the Corsi king he once was remains to be seen. Whether or not he and Martinez, who exercised together over the summer and apparently like to toss footballs to each other from their rooftops, can reclaim their glory as an incredible pairing is also an unknown. If the regular season goes anywhere near as well the preseason (I know, I know, it didn’t count and is in no way indicative of how the regular season will go, but just go with it) then the odds are definitely in their favor.
... And if Martinez’s lower-body injury keeps him out for a while, Muzzin just has one additional obstacle to overcome as he looks to find his form once more.