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.