It seems that for 29 teams in the league, it’s fruitless to speculate on potential moves brought up in the press. Most trades happen serendipitously and without warning, breaking late at night or during lunch and inconvenience reporters that get no advance alert. They have to drop everything and report on something they didn’t know to be true ten minutes before.
For the Maple Leafs it’s a little more straightforward. The Leafs play smack-dab in the middle of downtown Toronto, the proverbial Death Star of hockey reporting. The Leafs are owned by two media companies that own collectively two sports networks, a newspaper and a magazine. The Leafs are the centrepiece of the CBC’s deal with the National Hockey League, with the Maple Leafs getting the prime 7 p.m. slot most nights.
It’s generally advisable to ignore any and all rumours dealing with 29 teams in the league. Not with the Maple Leafs. Information gets out quickly and spreads. When something pops up written by a columnist or a television personality, such as the Leafs looking to trade for John Bernier, or to trade Joe Colborne, you’d be wise to listen. Rumours are almost always substantiated in this town. While Dave Bolland was a surprise, David Clarkson was not, and the public got a very detailed look at the negotiation process with Nazem Kadri.
So it’s with that qualifier that I feel comfortable highlighting these passages from Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts column, centring around young Jake Gardiner:
14. There is definitely some level of conversation going on between other teams and Toronto involving Jake Gardiner. I despise the word “shopped,” as it’s more like a feeling-out process. If the Maple Leafs do decide to do it, it’s going to be for a young asset or assets. So, you have to look at teams with talented young players. This is PURELY my speculation, but if teams like Dallas, Florida or Minnesota would be interested, you could see a match.
15. The Gardiner talk surprised me, because he was so impressive against Boston in last year’s playoffs. There are scouts who still have questions, but most agree that he has a valuable skill — he can skate the puck out of trouble.
If this is being brought up in 30 Thoughts, you know there’s something to it. I can see a situation existing where the Leafs and Gardiner don’t see eye to eye:
A theory on this Jake Gardiner talk: Players have been dealt because a GM didn’t like their agent. Remember who started #FreeGardiner?
— Steve Dangle Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) October 8, 2013
The other half of that theory is that if Morgan Rielly sticks around, Gardiner is effectively removed from the Top 4. Despite an awesome rookie season, Gardiner had trouble sticking in the Leafs lineup last season and spent way more time in the AHL with the Marlies than he probably should have. Stylistically, Gardiner isn’t Mark Fraser. He’s not a dependable defenceman that unspectacularly dumps the puck out off the glass and gives possession right back to the opposition. He’s a possession player, has the ability to skate the puck out but that results in more giveaways, and more giveaways show up in highlight-reels, and lost is that the Leafs retain more puck-possession with Gardiner on the ice than Fraser or, really, any other Leaf defenceman.
In two seasons, Gardiner’s Corsi For % was 49.6%, the highest on the Maple Leafs. He played softer minutes than the Dion Phaneuf’s of the world, but the percentage indicates that more shots were being taken in the opposition’s end than the Leafs. As maddening and scary as Gardiner’s style of play can be, there’s a reason why coaches all around the league are using words like “possession” to describe certain players. We don’t have zone exit numbers, but given that Gardiner is good at entries, Corsi, and drawing penalties, I’d suspect that he’s also good at bringing the puck out of his end at a decent rate.
And maybe 30 points is Gardiner’s peak. It doesn’t mean he’s not a worthwhile player because he may not be a No. 1 defenceman. It means he’s a No. 3 or a No. 4 guy with more offensive ability than defensive, and his defensive mistakes get washed out by what he does in the other two zones. Rielly in the Top 4 doesn’t make Gardiner expendable—it means that you have another good left-shot defenceman to work with, bumping somebody down the depth chart and making the other pairing better. Depth isn’t created by signing a No. 5 defenceman, it’s created by signing somebody that has your No. 4 bounce down a slot in the lineup.
I don’t know what the Leafs could get, but Gardiner makes $850K against the cap plus whatever into the bonus cushion, so it’s not like dealing him will free up money to get another centreman. Maybe they’re not shopping him, but I wonder what they possibly think they could get that makes the team better for this season? Is there another player, just as good as Gardiner, on an Entry-Level Deal that’s also on the outs with his team?
We’ll see what happens. It’s just reporting, but Leaf fans and observers have enough anecdotal evidence accrued since Dave Nonis took over to indicate that high-profile journalists reporting on potential moves need to be with more than a grain of salt. We’ll see how this turns out in the end, and look forward to watching Gardiner tomorrow against Colorado.