HomeSportsMaple Leafs has to deal with scary reality of Jake Muzzin’s spinal injury

Maple Leafs has to deal with scary reality of Jake Muzzin’s spinal injury

Maple Leafs has to deal with scary reality of Jake Muzzin’s spinal injury

Jake Muzzin, the 33-year-old defense man of Toronto Maple Leafs was confirmed with a cervical spine injury that is expected to heal by at least the end of February.

He is the conscience of the Toronto dressing rooms, a big guy with guts and a Stanley Cup ring and a friendly demeanor.

“It’s hard to see,” Toronto captain John Tavares said after practice at the Ford Performance Centre. “We think of him so much and care for him a lot. It’s not light news at all.”

Given his injury history, it’s fair to say that Muzzin’s 12-year NHL career could be in jeopardy. At 16, he underwent surgery to repair two herniated discs. He has had multiple concussions, as well as a broken foot and hand, since joining the club in January 2019.

He missed the start of the training camp with back pain and has only played four games so far.

“It’s sad to be his teammate and friend because you know how much he loves the game,” said Mitch Marner. “Getting messages like that from him is quite emotional.

“There are much bigger things than playing this game, and that’s your family and the people around you who love you.”

In addition to Muzzin’s unexpectedly serious injury, the Maple Leafs also placed fellow defense man TJ Brodie on the injury list with a strained oblique muscle.

Brodie sat out Saturday’s 3-2 win over Vancouver, the first game he has missed in 167 competitions since signing as a free agent with Toronto in 2020.

The defensive pairings when the team meets the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday will see Morgan Rielly with Jamie Benn, Mark Giordano with Justin Holl and Rasmus Sandin with Timothy Liljegren.

Matt Murray will make his first start at the Toronto net since losing to the Canadiens on opening night in Montreal. A Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins but also plagued by injury-related illnesses, Murray suffered an adductor strain three days into the regular season.

Since fellow goalkeeper Ilya Samsonov was also injured, Erik Kallgren came on very skillfully. He has now appeared in half of the 16 games and they are 8-5-3.

Muzzin was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 19, two days after he left a 3-2 loss to Arizona after colliding with Coyotes forward Clayton Keller. As recently as Friday, head coach Sheldon Keefe said there was no update on Muzzin’s return.

“It’s a tough loss for us,” Keefe said Monday. “He is a very important player for many reasons. We have to put up with that.

“When you lose a guy like him that you rely on so much, everyone else has to play more and in different situations than they might be used to – and that’s part of what we’re going through a little bit on the backend.”

Muzzin played in just 47 of 82 regular-season games last year, 53 of 56 in 2020-21 and 53 of 70 in 2019-20.

When in the lineup, he offers a physical presence and displays a toughness that is largely absent elsewhere.

In December 2019, he played 18 shifts with a broken foot after getting caught in a slapshot by New Jersey’s PK Subban.

“I feel for him because he’s such a competitor and how much he wants to be on the ice to help our team,” Keefe said. “He is doing everything to continue to be part of our team and to support us with his experience and perspective.”

Muzzin has been married for six years and has two very young children. During the training camp, he spoke about the importance of his family and his role as a husband and father.

It’s yet to be seen if he will return healthy enough to play and not risk further injuries.

“That’s a tough one to answer because we haven’t dealt with this type of injury that often,” said Toronto general manager Sheldon Keefe. “It’s not something you really want to mess around with.

“As important as he is to us as players, we have to do him justice. We have to do the right thing for his long-term health.”

This article was reported by the Globe and Mail.