Photo Credit: Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Canucks target Jake Gardiner in free agency?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

  • Bud Poile

    Contract talks on Edler MIA at the present time but I am sure they would like to sign Eddy to a two year deal without an NTC in the final year.Juolevi should take Hutton’s spot at some point this coming season so the focus is likely on a #1 RHD to allow Tanev to face less minutes and possibly be traded by the deadline.

  • TheRealPB

    Why do your pairings include Edler (UFA) and Hutton (RFA) but not Tanev who is actually under contract? I’d pass on any of the high price free agents and see if you can get Edler at a hometown discount since he wants to be in Vancouver so much.

      • Leigh McBain - love hockey

        I actually think Rafferty could be a guy who surprises. He has a solid hockey IQ, his passion/commitment for the game is solid as well. Additionally, he is both offensively and defensively capable and skates well also.

  • LiborPolasek

    Hard pass on Jake Gardiner, Karlsson and the rest of the available defencemen; the Canucks should keep there cap for the core and perhaps use it when the core is competing. Gardner and Karlsson both struggled defensively this year in the playoffs.

    • LiborPolasek

      To add: both Gardiner, Karlsson and to a certain extent Myers, seems to be good to elite regular season d men but not so great in the playoffs; for the cost and terms required to sign them I would move on.

  • Kevlar73

    I’d rather have Edler at a two or possible three year deal without the no move clause in years two and three. I don’t like the idea of bringing Gardiner in at what will probably be a 5-7 year commitment at a 6.5 to 8 million AAV. If his back wasn’t a huge question mark and if he was only 27 I’d be happy if the Canucks brought him in

  • TD

    I’m okay with Edler on a 2 or 3 year deal, as long as he doesn’t need to be protected in the expansion draft. I see Hughes as our PP guy and Elder as an all around and shut down guy.

    I’m not sure where Gardiner fits. I’d be fine having him in the lineup, but I doubt the term or dollar figure will fit.

  • IF

    Would love to see Benning sign Edler but they are better off letting him walk if his agent wants to maximize the contract to include term and no trade clauses. If an NTC is required, make it a year to year contract.

  • wojohowitz

    Gardiner is one of those players who skate well (like Bartkowski), handles the puck well (like Del Zotto) and looks good when it doesn`t matter. Where he fails is anticipating the play – what is about to happen – that`s when he turns into a pylon and a spectator.

    Offer Engelland a one year contract.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Several points. Listing only 6 Ds in a theoretical scenario should be seen as a thing of the past. It’s more like 8 blue liners now given inevitability of numerous injuries. I just wonder why Tanev wasn’t listed or the Bulldog because you’re going to need more than 6 easily. As for Gardiner another hard “no” by moi most of all because of coin and term some other schmuck will pay him. Decent defenceman but nyet. Karlsson is my favourite D in hockey but question his long term health while having superb hands, IQ and passing ability. Not the right fit IMHO for the Canucks at present. Stralman seems more appealing but as someone said on here free agency is anything but free.

    • Dan-gles

      What about adding a guy like Colin Miller for some depth on the right side? He has some decent offensive upside. Is defensively responsible and on a favourable contract.

    • A one legged Karlsson would be superior to anything that is available from our prospect pipeline over the foreseeable future. Trading for a Top 4 RHD would be prohibitively expensive and if you were to go the UFA route, it wouldn’t make sense to overpay on a lesser RHD. Pair him with Edler and take the offensive pressure off of him, he’ll do better if he can focus on defence.

  • Marvin101

    edler can lay out some thunderous body checks so i’d rate him a lot higher than gardiner and eddie won’t be demanding a 6 yr contract. eddie all the way!

  • james

    Gardiner sounds like a little better Pouliot can’t think the game fast enough, panics under pressure and disappears when going get tough. He gets out worked and hands out giveaways like candy. Hard no.

      • james

        We are letting Pouliot walk for nothing. Gardiner is better,6 mil plus better ,5year plus better? He is what he is, and not getting better. You maybe looking into ways of getting out of that contract.I feel like it would be better to look at players like Rafferty, or players like Bartkowsky that are gone if they don’t work.We have are allotted bad contracts.Look how Troy turned out.Bart could skate like the wind , had some skill but the rest of it was bad, and now gone. He was worth a look .

  • Rodeobill

    I don’t think Gardiner is as bad as he seems, and probably for the dollar a better bet than Myers, probably Karlsson even (not better than Karlsson, but value for the money). Passittobullis did an article recently looking at WAR and projected $ of the UFAs this year, good read. Gardiner seemed by those numbers the best value for a top pairing D man, but again numbers aren’t everything. Someone said Stralman, if I remember, he looked pretty good on that chart too.

    • canuckfan

      Edler is better than Gardner best to resign Edler than chase someone who is known for making some dumb plays. Toronto has some pretty good players up front which would make Gardners numbers better. Edler had better players up front this season compared to last couple of seasons and his numbers improved as did the teams. As the Canucks add better players to the lineup Edler’s numbers will improve at the same rate. Sign him for three years he will lead the defense the first year then gradually decreasing ice time as others step it up. Our left side is fine with Edler it is the right side that needs some work. I would be okay starting the year with the same group that ended the season and spend money on chasing a player up front who can put the puck in the net on a consistent rate. Canucks were better at getting the puck out of their zone last year need players up front who can keep possession and the puck in the oppositions end. This will make it easier on both Tanev and Edler. Also need to resign Hutton he had a good season last year and if Joulevi is able to take his spot so be it can’t just have spots gifted need to have some battles, plus having depth will come in handy.

  • rediiis

    I am not a fan of Gardiner and you wouldn’t if you watch his fails. Sure he had some points with Marner and Matthews, but his defense is awful. As long as Travis Green is there it will not happen.

  • Doodly Doot

    What’s Ben Chiarot worth? Might be a cheaper, better overall solution. Same age. I think BC has more ‘bite’ in his game. Less a liability in the playoffs? I have serious reservations about Gardiner. Please, let someone other team overpay.

    • Chiarot doesn’t seem like a good idea on paper. He made $1.4M last year but has traditionally been a sub-50% Corsi/Fenwick guy. Trouba and Byfuglien shelter him and yet both of them have better points and EV metrics that Chiarot. Biega has put up better numbers at half the cost ($825k) of Chiarot so I’d give him a pass.

      • I think it’s hard to find value in the UFA market because of the slingshot effect from RFA status. In order to find value, you need a hometown discount, a reclamation project, or an unproven player (e.g. college free agent). If I had to build the D-corp through free agency, I’d wait until next offseason when you have a lot more Top 4 defenders (e.g. Pietrangelo, Spurgeon, Faulk, Barrie, Krug, Hamonic) competing for contracts.

  • acg5151

    Gardiner is good but he’s not the right guy for this team. Let Edler finish his career on the Canucks. You have to have a good mix of veterans, youth and I think Edler helps this team and has the experience that would help the younger guys.