In stark contrast to what is currently being promoted in the heart of Leafs Nation …
Cox: Talented Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Jake Gardiner may have to go
The issue with Jake Gardiner, as it was 12 months ago, is trying to accurately evaluate his upside.
As in how good this kid may be.
The Leafs had to do that last year when they were browsing through the prospect chart of the Anaheim Ducks and ultimately landed Gardiner along with Joffrey Lupul in exchange for Francois Beauchemin.
Now, as they eye the possibility of a deal with Columbus to try and acquire Rick Nash, again the issue of the 21-year-old blueliner’s ultimate potential is under scrutiny.
And the reality is the Leafs don’t really have an answer.
They’re not exactly sure what they have.
“He’s one of those guys who you watch and you think he’s not trying that hard,” said Leaf head coach Ron Wilson. “Then you get down to ice level and you see how fast he’s going. Then you know you have a special player with special abilities.”
Gardiner hit a rough spot partway through the season, perhaps when he was feeling for the first time the burden of the NHL season, but has taken off again, including a stellar performance Wednesday in Edmonton as the Leafs snapped a four-game losing streak.
It now appears Columbus is likely to be more interested in Gardiner as the centrepiece of a Nash deal than Luke Schenn. The problem for the Leafs, however, is that while they know what Schenn is — No. 4 or 5 on a good team’s depth chart, a physical presence but unlikely to contribute much on the attack — it’s not clear quite yet just where Gardiner is headed.
“He might be Duncan Keith,” said one insider.
If Gardiner, a brilliant skater like the outstanding Chicago blueliner, is of that calibre, is it worth sacrificing him to land the 27-year-old Nash and his massive contract?
What the team’s GM, Brian Burke, actually needs to do, prior to the upcoming NHL trade deadline, is refrain from making any trade which involves a core player on Toronto’s present roster – i.e. James Reimer [No. 1 Goalie], Jonas Gustovson [No. 2 Goalie], Phil Kessel [No. 1 Scorer], Jake Gardiner [No. 1 Young Defenseman], Luke Schenn [No. 2 Young Defenseman] or Dion Phaneuf [Team Captain] – in hopes of ensuring that his squad qualifies for the playoffs this season.
Last year the Maple Leafs finished in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and failed to reach the post-season for the 6th consecutive year.
This year the Maple Leafs are currently in 8th place in the Eastern Conference and solidly in the hunt for a berth in the post-season tournament.
In an effort to build an elite-level franchise which is actually able to compete for the Stanley Cup each and every season, over an extended period of time – e.g. the next decade plus – it makes absolutely no difference, whatsoever, if the Maple Leafs qualify for the playoffs this year, or not … if, in the process, it also happens to cost them, one or more of the tangible assets from the above list of 6 names, especially a highly mobile, once-in-a-generation rushing defenseman with the play-making moxy of 21-year old Jake Gardiner who, this corner believes, has the ability to become a multiple-time league all-star in the not-too-distant future.
In fact … it says here:
Anyone who advocates that the Maple Leafs should be willing to pull the trigger on a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets that involves trading Jake Gardiner [i.e. a blossoming rear-guard who can easily generate offense for his line-mates] in return for Rick Nash [i.e. an aging forward who is fairly proficient at scoring goals] simply has ZERO FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE when it comes to the building of a championship-winning sports team.
Instead of trying to acquire Rick Nash in a short-term focused trade deadline deal, what Brian Burke needs to do is continue adding good, young, long term pieces to his team, via [i] the NHL Draft and [ii] Unrestricted Free Agency, in the off-season.