“It’s a knee jerk reaction,” “let’s not have our judgement clouded by one bad game,” these will be the arguments in defense of Jake Gardiner, I’m not here to bury Jake Gardiner I’m here to try and trade him, and to convince you that it is the rationale sober minded option. Even if we forgive that in the biggest game of his life he folded like a cheap-nay a turn of the century train hopping hobo’s-suit (a pretty damn big concession that some of the sunshine, lollipop and rainbow members of the fan base will make) he still needs to go.
The biggest problem with Gardiner is his contract status and his position on the LHS depth chart. I want you to go along with me and entertain a couple of thoughts here:
(1) Travis Dermott will be a top 4 d man, I don’t think it’s unreasonable this happens next year(hear me out before panicking about that last point.)
(2) Jake will seek a contract worth an excess of 4 million and not stay on as a third pairing powerplay specialist and if he did…
(3) By the time the Leafs are contending a top 4 RHD will have been added or developed and he will likely be capable on the powerplay (ie/ Carlson or Liljiegren) and between this mystery d man, and Rielly, Jake’s hypothetical roll would be superfluous.
(4) Burning more assets in the fashion likely done with JVR isn’t ideal unless they make noise in the playoffs next year and frankly the team won’t look hugely different and will still be in the division from Hell. The Leafs will have many cracks at this if they play their cards right, I think they must look at the long game this offseason and build towards a permanent fix on D. So even if Dermott isn’t ready to be thrown to the wolves in the top 4(although his underlying numbers against low end competition suggest he is ready for a bigger role) this is a bullet the Leafs should bite next year if the Gardiner move is for futures.
The biggest issue with trading Gardiner is that ideally he would be swapped for a RHD, so who is available? Pretty much no one, there are pipe dreams about including Gardiner in a Doughty proposal but if the Kings trade their Norris winning defenseman it will hurt a lot more to acquire him then Jake and a couple lottery tickets. Speaking of lottery tickets however:
Scenario 1: They can try and trade Gardiner for a top 10 pick (think the Stepan deal last season), now a Stepan(or before that Schneider) type trade requires a perfect storm and the two biggest possibilities here involve the Oilers(pick #9) and the Islanders(pick #10). However, even these are imperfect; the Oilers would be overstocked at LHD with Nurse, Klefbom and Sekera, the latter two they could look at flipping afterwards, as Gardiner fills a dire need for them as an offensive option on the back end. And the Islanders could be looking at a full scale youth movement if Tavares walks, wherein parting with a top 10 pick looks unwise, but they badly need any help they can get on defense as well.
If the Leafs make this deal they hope one of the highly touted right RHD prospects Noah Dobson or Evan Bouchard are still on the board. Alternatively Brady Tkachuk (although his ranking fluctuates all over the top 10) would be a wonderful addition he can play left wing, if there was ever going to be a player who could knock Hyman off the top line he is the man, or center where he would solve the Leafs center issue once and for all not to mention he’d bring some much needed grit to this roster. This is definitely a move for the long game but if you pull it off you simply try to sign either a stop gap RHD or a player like Carlson, if you get Carlson you may argue the Leafs become too deep on RHD between players (include immovable object Nikita Zaistev) and prospects, to which I would ask: is there such a thing?
Scenario 2: Trade him for an LHD who plays a different roll. Nicklas Hjalmarsson has a lot of mileage on him but he’s still only 30 and he would be a massive improvement to the roster of serviceable DFD’s. He’d help out on the penalty kill and if Hainsey finds himself on the third pairing next year these two could be relied on in key situations *cough*holding a third period game seven lead*cough* and he would be a good fall back if Dermott struggles in the top 4 since he can play up and down the lineup. Arizona GM John Chayka does this because his calculator tells him to. Hjalmarsson has a year left as well but would likely be more affordable to extend and as a shutdown defenseman would fill a roll long-term.
Alternatively, and bear with me a second, you try to get Klefbom out of Edmonton. I know, I know, LHD depth chart, Dermott, everything else I said, etc. etc. But this is a guy who played like a number one defenseman during the 2016-2017 season and is signed long-term to just over 4 million (there is a risk here since he played very poorly this year and the Leafs would have 8 million tied up in two defensemen who fit that bill) if he regained his form the Leafs could pull off the next great fleecing of Peter Chiarelli and he does play a different style from Jake Gardiner. This is just another situation where the team ends up with a surplus of defensive talent, and maybe moves past someone at some point, but the Leafs aren’t on the clock to lose a player for nothing by this time next year so it’s certainly an improvement.
The Oilers either make this move for the reasons listed in the first trade proposal involving them or they don’t do it because they don’t want to sell low on Klefbom...I’m kidding obviously, selling low is Chiarelli’s favorite pastime. Oilers also might be concerned about locking Gardiner up, especially at potentially a higher cap hit then Klefbom but I think between their desperation for a powerplay quarterback and Gardiner’s opportunity to light it up with McDavid the stars could align here.
Scenario 3: Flip him for similarly aged oft-injured RHD Chris Tanev. Tanev, apparent inability to stay healthy notwithstanding, would be the perfect fit for the Leafs but I’m not sure this deal makes much sense for the Canucks who, without Tanev, would lack a high end defensive defenseman themselves and are still in their pseudo rebuild wherein it makes the most sense to part with Tanev for picks…I think…I can’t really get into the mind of Jim Benning…he is a rare breed and outside of my psychoanalytic capabilities.
There it is my long winded, clear headed assessment of Gardiner’s future or lack thereof with the Maple Leafs. Gardiner had one of the worst big game performances ever in game 7 and it wasn’t just the one game, that was a culmination of a career of making the occasional bad play that was often overlooked in favor of the good he brings, but in the biggest pressure situation he simply could not be trusted and the Bruins had the book on him and applied the right amount of pressure to turn that “occasional bad play” into a series losing debacle. I looked at this from as objective a view point I could and I think this is the right decision, let me know if you agree.