Okay, this one stings.
When Justin Williams departed for Washington after the 2014-15 season, it was sad, but for a free agent whose family played a huge part in his decision to move back east, we understood the motives. When Tanner Pearson was traded, we appreciated his contributions in 2014 almost as much as we wondered why his dramatic breakout had never happened in the years following. And the departures of other veterans from past Los Angeles Kings championship teams almost exclusively came when they were surplus to requirements, waning in effectiveness, or ready to sail off into retirement.
Jake Muzzin’s departure? This one’s a different story. The Kings still have yet to rid themselves of a true core member from the 2012 and 2014 squads, but this feels as close as we’ve come to doing that. Muzzin’s a player who’s still in peak form, can still help his team in a number of ways, and LA has shipped him off. After years of believing that a down-and-out Los Angeles Kings team always had a chance to make up a steep deficit or overcome unlikely odds, we’re now watching the Kings surrender. On January 28. And we’re not mad! Very few of us seem to be mad! I thought the Kings were gonna get ratio’ed on their Twitter trade announcement, but it’s mostly fans nodding their heads in resigned acceptance:
The LA Kings have acquired a 2019 first-round pick, forward Carl Grundstrom, and defenseman Sean Durzi from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Jake Muzzin.https://t.co/4EkRow5DD0— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 29, 2019
No, we get why the Kings are doing this. We’re just sad, that’s all.
When I started thinking about Muzzin’s legacy, my first thought, other than “Gosh I miss him already,” was... are we blowing up Muzzin’s importance more than we should? I started at Jewels from the Crown right as Jake Muzzin was preparing to win a spot with the Kings out of training camp in 2012-13, and now that I think about it, Muzzin wasn’t the big deal he is now for quite some time. I’d forgotten that Muzzin’s game was all the way back in October 2010. I’d also forgotten that Muzzin cracked the on-ice 2012 Stanley Cup Champions photo, but sure enough, I found him in my commemorative book:
The most auspicious aspect of Muzzin’s debut season was, naturally, his Corsi For%. His 64% CF% in the lockout-shortened 2013 was the highest in the NHL, and no one has come close to that in a full season since. (Or half a season, if you want to directly compare his 45 games that season.) Muzzin paced the league in that category again in 2013-14, but he was getting relatively easy minutes on an excellent possession team. So what happened to make us feel like he was so much more important to that squad?
Oh, right, the playoffs. Out of 76 regular season games, Muzzin cleared 20 minutes of ice time in 26 games. (He didn’t play 82 because of healthy scratches, one of which inspired this defense of Muzzin by our former editor, Robert. It aged well.) His ice time was under 20 minutes in each of the Kings’ first five games despite being paired with Drew Doughty. In the next 21 games, Muzzin cleared 20 minutes 21 times as LA stormed to the Stanley Cup. In typical Muzzin fashion, he didn’t notch as many highlight-reel moments as fellow blueliners Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez, but he provided a steady presence most nights and grew up quite a bit. He also scored four goals in four wins, including this bullet of a goal, which was followed by one of the more dramatic WOO’s I can remember from a King:
Muzzin seized the title of #2 defenseman during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs and never relinquished it. Since that season, you’ve watched Jake Muzzin for more minutes than you’ve watched Anze Kopitar. Think about that and you might recognize why Kings games are going to feel very different without #6 on the blueline. So yeah, he was important then, and he stayed important, and there’s no question that he’ll be difficult to replace.
And though we weren’t always right about Jake Muzzin at Jewels from the Crown, we sure did go to bat for him. Heck, I used my one appearance on Kings Weekly to talk about how great Jake Muzzin’s possession stats were. (I also accidentally made LA Kings Mean Tweets by asking a serious question about the low level of respect Muzzin was getting around the league. Oops.) We may have called him a dork and called out his excellently goofy photos and talked about his eyebrows a lot, but we probably praised him more than even he’d say he deserved, and that didn’t change too often. (Here are five different season reviews by five different authors: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Find a theme!)
Maybe I liked Muzzin so much because he seemed... human. Muzzin got unwanted attention from Kings fans for his turnovers, and when the Kings missed the playoffs in 2015 and 2017, Muzzin was one of the players who took some heat for his negative goal margins. Even his most ardent defenders had to admit that when he started playing tougher minutes and being forced to carry his own pair, Muzzin had a lot of improvement to do. While he learned to hit and score and play with discipline, he also had to learn to deal with the weight of expectations after his surprising emergence as a key King.
For that reason, it was gratifying to watch Muzzin bounce back from rough moments and become a leader, even if the Kings never reached the sport’s peak again. This year, he followed up perhaps “his best season” with an arguably better one, and it netted the Kings a first-round pick and a couple of prospects. Doughty’s won Olympic gold medals and Norris Trophies, but we were almost as stoked when Muzzin made Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey, because he’d come a looong way from being an undrafted free agent. Now he’s a big name in the biggest hockey city in the world. Muzzin will never be an underdog again, which is too bad... it’s more fun to root for the underdog.
And lord knows we got a reputation for rooting for him.
Jon Rosen: Be careful with these guys, they’re really rough on you on their site.
JftC: Oh no! I just told him...he said nobody’s told him how good he is at Corsi and all those things!
Rosen: This is Jake Muzzin fan club right over here...
JftC: Thanks a lot, Jake! Just don’t tell anyone...
Muzzin: Small club, right? I appreciate you guys, thank you!
So from the Jake Muzzin Fan Club (TM): no, thank you again, Jake!
(Now show ‘em all that we were right about you this whole time. Like I said, we’ve got a reputation.)