26-Year-Old Defenseman – Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Gardiner Contract Information:
Signed a five-year, $20.25 million contract extension with the Maple Leafs in July 2014.
Gardiner notched an assist on William Nylander's game-tying power-play goal in the third period Tuesday, then buried the game-winner in overtime to secure a 5-4 victory over Winnipeg.
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RotoWire's Preseason Outlooks
Gardiner is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle. He’s a darling of the advanced stat-heads who say he’s one of the Leafs’ best in possession. But he’s just another brain cramp away from the doghouse when you watch him on the ice. Hockey sense is the big gap in Gardiner’s game – he just doesn’t think the game well at all. He’s blessed with rover-like offensive talent that should have delivered 40-plus points in 2014-15. Instead, he regressed to just four goals, 20 assists and a minus-23 rating in 79 games. Diminished expectations for the whole Leafs squad this season could be the best thing that could happen to this talented defender – it could be the ticket to regaining his confidence. And playing for Mike Babcock might just help him learn to manage his in-game decisions a little bit better. Still, he's not worth a significant investment outside of deep formats.
After spending the first half of 2013-14 in coach Randy Carlyle's doghouse, Gardiner finally broke the chain and was arguably the Leafs' best defender in the last month of the season. He picked up 12 points, including five goals, in his last 14 games, looking every part of an emerging stud. Now with a massive contract extension tucked in his jock, Gardiner is ready to take his game to the next level and it should happen this season. He'll get a shot at the spot on the top pairing vacated by Carl Gunnarsson and get a gig on the first power-play unit, too. He could deliver a 50-percent increase in scoring this season; a total of 45 points is certainly possible. It'll come with lots of mistakes, but the bottom line is simple: you can't get offense without taking some risks. We'll take the mistakes that come with that because the fantasy output will be downright delicious.
Tremendous skating ability? Check. Elite vision? You betcha. Great offensive instincts? For sure. And a couple defensive disasters a game? Sadly, yes, but even that part of his game really is steadily improving. He struggled between the AHL and NHL last season after suffering a brain knock on a blindside hit on Dec. 8, but he really picked things up in Round One against the Bruins ... to the point where he was arguably the Leafs' best player in an OT loss in Game 4. Every team needs a guy who can skate the puck out of his own zone, create space for himself and his teammates, keep cool under extreme pressure and deliver on the power play. The sky is the limit for Gardiner, starting this year.
Ooooo baby, this guy was hot last season. He eliminated all thought that his hockey sense was subpar and he went on to be the Leafs' best defender in just his first season. He's poised and patient, with elite vision and wheels. That combo is going to catapult him into the fantasy elite in a couple years. We don't expect that proverbial sophomore slump to hit -- he was way more productive under Randy Carlyle (11 points in 18 games) than Ron Wilson (19 in 57). Forty points and top power-play time beckon this season. Then it's up, up ... UP.
Gardiner is a thoroughbred on skates who the Leafs believe was the real haul in the Joffrey Lupul deal with Anaheim. He’s big, blistering fast and can effectively QB a power play. But he still has some growing to do in his own end, particularly on his intensity and decision making. He made the jump to pro after a stand-out sophomore season at Wisconsin and will need a few seasons in the AHL to learn the pro games and add some muscle. Keeper leaguers should monitor him this year before taking the plunge -- he needs to prove he can think the game a wee bit better before we’ll anoint him the next Paul Coffey. Or even anywhere remotely close.
Gardner is a thoroughbred – this kid can fly. He converted to the blue line just three years ago so he definitely has a offensive mindset. But his mindset is the thing that could hold him back. We’ve heard whispers about his lack of hockey sense but time will tell. He will head to college and should spend several years there. He's a long-term investment.