Just because the season has officially gotten underway doesn’t mean that trade rumors aren’t still floating around out there. One of the names that figures to be hot and heavy in such rumors, perhaps all the way up until the trade deadline, is that of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner.
Gardiner represents one of the better young defensemen anywhere in the league. He’s only 23, an excellent puck mover, and a guy that can play physical on the blue line. He’s a player that many teams would be eager to add to the mix, and should only get better as his career wears on. So just why would the Maple Leafs trade him?
There are varying reports out of Toronto that Gardiner and head coach Randy Carlyle aren’t exactly on the greatest of terms. Given what we know about Carlyle as a head coach, it probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a player is having an issue with him.
The issue stems from Carlyle playing Mike Kostka over Gardiner, who clearly has more upside, on multiple occasions last year. It wasn’t until the postseason that we saw Gardiner finally get consistent playing time, and he actually fared quite well. We know what he’s capable of, it’s just a matter of development.
Which is why it’s no time to trade Gardiner. A player-coach relationship can be improved. What the Maple Leafs cannot account for is if Gardiner goes on to have a wildly successful career elsewhere. They don’t have the personnel to replace him, and while Gardiner is a free agent this summer, so is Dion Phaneuf.
It’s not just a matter of having no suitable replacement, and potentially losing other key defensemen to free agency next summer. It’s the fact that Gardiner is such a young and potentially high end talent on the blue line. He’s an excellent offensive defenseman, and his play in his own zone is coming along. He can be among the game’s best. Of course, if the Leafs feel that he won’t reach that potential in Toronto, they’ll move him.
That wouldn’t be the right move, at least at this point.