Let me be clear: I have not missed what everyone is seeing in young Jake Gardiner. Do I need to list his many attributes? There’s that fluid, seemingly effortless skating style—with real speed. We’ve all noticed his “smarts”, his vision and that even temperament, too, along with his ability to stay cool under pressure.
Dies this guy even know what league he is in?
That said, as much as I love what this youngster brings to a team that in so many ways needs just what he can deliver (and he should only get better, eh?) I guess I see things differently from Leaf management—and most Leaf faithful.
I still want him playing with the Marlies.
Hey, it’s just one person’s opinion. I’m guessing most (all?) of you will dismiss it. It’s just that I too often see little things, from a defensive perspective that, well, make me wince just a bit.
I’m not blaming him for the two goals he was on for at even strength on Monday night. The first saw Komisarek rush to the side-boards only to have Hartnell get his shot off before Gardiner could shut him down. The other saw Liles jump into the play in the Flyers end, and then Gardiner wasn’t able to get back in time to prevent Jagr from his third breakaway (and second goal) of the night. (I guess we thought Jagr was still playing in Russia…)
Hey. I’m sure lots of NHL defensemen would not have been able to prevent either of those plays from ending up in goals. My observation is simply this: Toronto has 7 other defensemen in the system (Franson upstairs and Aulie in the minors) who already have ample NHL experience—all of whom have demonstrated they can play capably at the NHL level. (Hell, Franson was paired with Weber in the playoffs against Detroit, wasn’t he?)
Does Gardiner bring something different? In a sense, yes. But part of the attraction we feel toward Gardiner is that he is indeed young and he has impressed the heck out of us by making the Leafs out of training camp, coming out of nowhere, in a sense. His calm presence on the ice and the above-mentioned skills (rare for such a young player just out of college) make him a guy you want to see here for a long time, for sure.
So it’s a great storyline, and we all really like the story and want a happy ending.
But is his skill set that much better than Liles, who also brings offense and puck-moving ability (remember, he is our Kabby replacement)? And what about Franson, who has to have feel like he has been kicked in the stomach, starting the season in the press box, having his new coach ticked at him because he dared to speak out, and then back in the press box when he didn’t play stunningly well in the games he did play (after the coach basically said, “You better play well now, or you’re back upstairs…)
Let me make a final observation. This is the early stage of the NHL season. Yes, it’s more intense than pre-season, but this is nowhere near what it would/will be like come April if the Leafs make the playoffs. I wonder how Gardiner will handle that kind of physical, tough and much more intense play. There is no way there will be as much “time and space” when the games take on more meaning later in the season and in the spring.
I’m a solitary voice in the wilderness on this one, I suspect. Some thought he may be sent down after his short stay in the press box, but he has been in the line-up since and looks to be here to stay. I don’t think he is going anywhere.
I will gladly acknowledge I was wrong if he plays as well as everyone else thinks he is now, throughout the rest of the season.
But I reserve the right to raise this issue again, if things don’t work out as smoothly as we’d all like to see.
Some post-game thoughts from the Philly loss...
- People who follow this site know I have been, for a long time, encouraging patience with—and support—for The Monster. Like most observers, I was happy to see him make some big saves and play well in Philly. In the same breath, one thing I would like to see is Gustavsson play his best hockey in the last period, when the game is still on the line. That’s one of the things I’ve appreciated about Reimer in his still very young career. Yes, he will allow some iffy goals but so often seems to make big saves in the third period to keep the Leafs in it. Gustavsson made some great saves but still gave up 4 goals on only 30 shots.
- I like the idea of Kadri and Frattin playing together as a kind of “kid line”. They aren’t scoring much, but they did create the second Leaf goal and you have to love it when two Leafs are in the crease when a goal is scored. Kadri again flashed some moves and Frattin has that speed. Frattin almost pulled the Leafs even off a beauty Kadri feed at one point early in the third. When Frattin gets one, more should follow.
- Grabovski now has 1 assist in 8 games. For a center, that’s not good, no matter how we try to cover it up. I wonder if people see this as a function of how he is playing, or the fact that Kulemin and MacArthur have not played the way they did last season (at least not yet)?
- Gunnarsson had only the fourth highest on-ice total of all Leaf defensemen. That doesn’t make a lot of sense for me, but I’m not a coach, clearly.
- Bozak and Connolly should be back soon (Connolly for sure on Thursday?) which will give us a better idea in the next couple of weeks, once Connolly settles in, where we are up the middle.
- Do you think Giroux could find a spot in the Leaf line-up?
- I don't know how he will do in six months after a gruelling NHL schedule, but hands up, those who thought Jagr would have this kind of impact already in his return to the league?
- It’s early (I keep saying that) but somehow the special teams have to be better. Almost every night we are giving up power-play goals and not doing enough to overcome that when we have the man advantage.
Bottom line, I like the fact that the Leafs are playing hard and have been in every game except at the end in Boston. But despite their good early-season record, I think we can all see some loose play. None of us expects them to be perfect. It’s a game of mistakes and missed assignments. If it weren’t, it would be an awfully dull sport.
But to contend (especially as the schedule gets tougher after a 5-game home stand to provide a soft cushion to open the season) we will need to see that effort right across the board, from every player, pretty much every night—and improved special teams.
Otherwise, the playoffs are far from a guarantee, despite another nice start to the regular season.