Jake Gardiner MUST be laughing in the face of the Maple Leafs right now

A few injuries and boom, the Maple Leafs don’t look the contender we all thought they were. Often the target for fan criticism, Jake Gardiner has been missed on the back end and has to be laughing at his struggling team right now.

Hand up – I am a Jake Gardiner critic. I think he plays with one hand on his stick too much, is unreliable in his own end, lacks hockey sense, and is a mess trying to keep the puck in on the opponent’s blue line.

I am also of the opinion that without him in the line up right now the Leafs are getting continually embarrassed due to brutal defensive zone coverage. Travis Dermott’s injury has compounded the issues, but missing Gardiner, the Leaf’s second best defenseman, has caused massive problems for Babcock’s Buds.

Also, Jake Gardiner has to be kicking back and laughing in the face of his team. Maybe not the players, but the fans certainly. All the boo’s (which I think he’s earned and then some), all of the criticism, being dropped to the bottom pair, all of it is now laughing material for Gardiner.

Despite comments about keeping Jake Gardiner, there has to be little to no way he sticks around. He’s due for a substantial pay raise as he hurdles towards free agency, regardless of his current injury, and Toronto would need him to take a haircut to stay.

No, instead of sticking around the most watched and over-analyzed team in the league, Gardiner should ship out, collect his, oh let’s say $2 million raise, and coast for the rest of his career.

We deserve better than Gardiner as a defender (please note I said defender, not referencing his obvious offensive upside), and I believe it will be addressed this offseason. But, as for now, Gardiner has to be laughing in the face of the circus surrounding a wallowing Toronto Maple Leafs team right now.

He’s back on the ice with Dermott which, despite what you think about Gardiner, is a good thing for the Maple Leafs. He’s better than Marincin, Holl, and Ozhiganov, and the Leafs will be counting the days until he’s back again in game shape.

As for now, Gardiner can take some solace in the fact the Toronto has struggled defensively in his absence. It’s the most criticized aspect of his game, and even though the Leafs looked good against Buffalo… it’s just Buffalo. Gardiner will be back soon, and he’ll bring with him the knowledge that he offers more than a lot of people think defensively.

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Out with back spasms, the Leafs can preview what life is like without Gardiner

Reported by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Leafs’s defacto #2 defenseman, Jake Gardiner, is out for the cross-conference battle with Edmonton tonight. The game now is acting as a preview for the Leafs life beyond Gardiner.

Love him or hate him, you have to admit the Leafs will be hard-pressed to re-sign their #2 defenseman Jake Gardiner this offseason. The now 29-year-old left sided D-man has enjoyed a one-team career with Toronto, but that is set to end with the Leafs pending cap issues and Gardiner’s probable raise.

Look for Jake Muzzin to take up the mantle of second power play unit captain with Gardiner out. Muzzin has a booming shot from the point and his passing and skating skills make him an ideal replacement.

Who gets the start?

With Edmonton in town tonight, there is no time to rehab and rest the issue ahead of the Leafs next game, so we’ll be seeing a new(ish) face on the blue line.

Dailyfaceoff.com has the Leafs setting up with Reilly-Hainsey, Muzzin-Zaitsev, and Dermott-Ozhiganov. This is the logical fall back with Ozhiganov playing the most minutes out of the two onlooking defenders, himself and Justin Holl.

Mike Babcock may opt for this as a simplistic approach to solving his late injury issue with Gardiner, but wouldn’t you like to see a little more excitement in his team selection? The one reason I believe he might make a call-up would be chemistry.

The chemistry between Muzzin and Dermott was electric against the Sabre’s on Monday night. Both finished with an assist and both can boast +’s on a night where the opposition scored three times (+2 for Dermott and +3 for Muzzin).

Muzzin seems fine playing on the right side of a defensive pairing. He played 20:12 minutes against a fast and unrelenting Buffalo offense from the right side and dominated. So why would Babcock mess with that? He shouldn’t, so guess Babcock needs a left-sided defenseman then!

Both Holl and Ozhiganov are right D, but Rosen’s injury could derail his play tonight in that desired LHD spot. Despite his injury keeping him our for the Marlies, Rosen could travel with the Leafs for the second half of their back-to-back against the Islanders.

The Leafs brought him in before the 2017/18 season to add more defensive depth options on the cheap. He was seemingly passed up by country-mate Adreas Borgmann initially, but the Leafs 1-way contract they gave to Rosen recently received (starts next season) suggests otherwise.

The more I write this the more I think it’s unlikely. But, with the Marlies close by why not give him a try? The Leafs can sustain some shuffling of the lines vs. Edmonton if Rosen unlikely for tonight’s game but if healthy he should start against immediately and against New York.

Brief background on Rosen this season…

In 52 games played this season Rosen has amassed:

  • 7 goals
  • 37 assists
  • 44 points
  • +10
  • 16 power play points
  • 2 short-handed assists
  • 127 shots on goal
  • 36 penalty minutes

Rosen was selected as a 2018/19 AHL all-star alongside Trevor Moore from the Marlies. Is he worth a look at this point in the season? He’s had a terrific AHL season so surely he’s earned a chance for some injury relief action.

Next season we’ll likely be seeing a lot more of Rosen as life without Gardiner sets in. Why not sample his skills now?