There are plenty of intriguing options for the Canucks when it comes to free agency this summer.
Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks is the biggest name available on the blueline, but Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs is sure to fetch plenty of interest.
Ok, everyone, how about this: Jake Gardiner would also look great on Canucks defence, but at what cost?
— Iain MacIntyre (@imacSportsnet) May 8, 2019
Gardiner, a left-shot defenseman, is coming off a decent year in Toronto in which he missed 20 games with a back injury. The 28-year-old managed 30 points (three goals) and a plus-19 rating to help Toronto to an 100-point season. Gardiner was coming off arguably his best offensive season to date in which he put up 52 points in 2017-18.
Gardiner will be a UFA on July 1st and will be looking for a big pay day after making an AAV of $4,050,000 during his last five years in Toronto. According to The Spec, Gardiner looks to be the most likely casualty of Toronto’s impending salary cap squeeze.
The Leafs have already committed more than $68 million to 16 players in 2019-20 — not including pending restricted free agent right wing Mitch Marner.
Gardiner has been a workhorse over the last few years for the Maple Leafs and Toronto likely won’t be able to pay him the money he’s ultimately worth. You take into the account the rise of Morgan Rielly and the acquisition of Jake Muzzin — who both play the left side — it’s reasonable to think Gardiner could leave the Maple Leafs this summer.
There’s no denying the offensive talent from Gardiner. He’s taken major steps forward over the last few years and averaged around 21:00 of ice time since he entered the league. He is also known for turning the puck over and was booed by Toronto fans back in January against the Avalanche for getting outworked by Carl Soderberg on a goal against.
Gardiner was also a minus-5 against the Bruins in Game 7 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and had a costly mistake against the Bruins in Game 3 this past postseason.
Gardiner has been in this league for eight years now and it’s evident he excels at the offensive side of the game while his defensive game could use improvement. He had a team-high 105 giveaways in his last full NHL season (2017-18).
The Canucks are very likely going to be tapping into the free agent or trade market this offseason to try and improve their defense core. Gardiner is a left shot defenseman who plays the left side. It’s pretty apparent the Canucks need help on the right side. That’s part of the reason there’s been more speculation about the Canucks targeting Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers or Anton Stralman this summer.
What it may ultimately boil down to is how the Canucks view their current defensive group on the left side. Quinn Hughes is expected to grow into an offensive juggernaut who can control play from the back end. Ben Hutton had a bounce-back year but needs to prove his consistency and work on his defensive game.
The Alex Edler situation remains a big question mark. GM Jim Benning has made it clear that he intends to re-sign the pending UFA. The 33-year-old has a no-trade clause and has stated his desire to remain in Vancouver. If Edler does move on this summer, that would open a spot on the left side for someone such as Gardiner.
Both Edler and Gardiner can log heavy minutes and quarterback a power play. They’re two very similar players except Edler is four years older. Both hit 30-40 pts early in their careers and rose to 50 points in their primes. They’re also both good for the occasional bad giveaway that proves costly to their team.
When you look at transition metrics, Gardiner is efficient in entries, prolific in exits and is solid at defending the blueline. He also has strong shot contributions and had a 52.2 corsi for percentage this past season.
You have to take into consideration Gardiner is playing with elite talent such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander among others, but it’s very hard to argue that Edler is a better player than Gardiner right now. Edler simply can’t stay healthy and has missed almost a full season’s worth of games over the last four years. It’s a different argument when you take into consideration the leadership Edler provides and the fact he has spent his entire playing career with the Canucks. That value extends beyond the scoresheet and shouldn’t be glossed over.
It’s hard to envision Gardiner being brought in with Edler still in the picture. Both players play a similar style and are going to land similar contracts this summer. Gardiner’s mistakes got amplified in Toronto because he’s playing in the biggest hockey market in the NHL. .
Despite being the scapegoat at times in Toronto, Gardiner is a very solid defenseman. The Canucks just have too much of a log jam at the LHD position for Gardiner to be an ideal fit. If the team is banking on Quinn Hughes developing into the star he’s projected to be and Edler re-signing, that will be a lot of money and term sunk on a guy who makes defensive mistakes and may not be used to his offensive potential in Vancouver.
Read also: What is Chris Tanev’s trade value now?