If Carl Gunnarsson is out for any significant portion of time, it would be an extremely underrated loss for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Gunnarsson left Toronto’s 7-1 embarrassment to the New York Rangers after he fell awkwardly into the boards. He’s apparently suffering from an upper-body injury and he’s listed day-to-day until further details are released about his status.
Although Gunnarsson has been criticized for not deserving to be on Toronto’s top defensive pairing with Dion Phaneuf, he’s still a consistent player on an inconsistent blue-line. Truth be told, the ideal fit for Gunnarsson would be as the team’s fourth-best defenseman. Making only $3.1 million, he provides more than enough stability at an excellent cap-hit to excel in a role on the Maple Leafs’ second-defensive pairing.
Unfortunately, Toronto’s thin blue-line is forcing Gunnarsson to play above his head and although most nights he holds his own, some nights he’s also exposed, which is when the criticism rises. However, there’s no question he’s the best option on the roster to play with Phaneuf, as he leads the team in blocked shots with 96, he’s second on the team in plus/minus with a plus-nine rating and he’s third in hits with 95.
Those are the type of numbers teams would love to have from a second-pairing defenseman, but because Cody Franson isn’t consistent, Morgan Rielly is too young and Jake Gardiner can’t maintain his confidence, Gunnarsson is continuously viewed as a top-pairing defender, despite being paid a reasonable salary. Imagine the added stability Toronto’s blue-line would possess if Gunnarsson is paired with Franson, Rielly or Gardiner and the team could acquire somebody else who would compliment Phaneuf. Suddenly, the Maple Leafs might not give up 45 shots a game
Gunnarsson deserves more respect than he’s earned from the Toronto fan base because he’s being judged unfairly in a role he’s not paid to play. Maple Leaf fans better hope his injury isn’t serious or they soon could be painfully realizing how valuable Gunnarsson truly is.