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Does Jake Gardiner absolutely have to be “untouchable” as the Leafs keep looking?

It's rarely a good idea to talk about trades in the aftermath of a lousy performance.  I'm pretty sure what the Leafs put forward Saturday night in Vancouver was precisely that.  As good as the Canucks might be, they aren't the '77 Habs, so they should not be unbeatable, even at home.  But, the Leafs proved that at the ACC not long ago, when they beat the Canucks in a strong effort.  It's just one game.

Or is it?

Regardless,  the truth is, the idea of a trade is indeed on our minds, at least most of us who follow the Leafs closely.  A few visitors to the site may remember that, some weeks ago, I posted a piece with the following notion:  if I was Bob Murray in Anaheim, what would I insist on if I was prepared to trade either Ryan Getzlaf or Bobby Ryan to the Maple Leafs?

My comment was, well, let me will reiterate it now:  if I am in Murray's shoes, or for that matter if I am in the shoes of Scott Howson, the GM in Columbus, there is a minimum expectation of what I'm getting back  if I’m dealing with the Maple Leafs and they want my best player (Getzlaf, Ryan or, in the case of the Blue Jackets, Rick Nash)

His name is Jake Gardiner.

Now I want Leaf fans reading this to understand what I’m saying here.  I’m not saying the Leafs should trade Jake Gardiner.  I am saying that, if I was a GM of another NHL team and Burke wanted what amounts to my best player, then the discussion starts with a simple demand:  I want your best young prospect, and that is, without question, Jake Gardiner.

Here’s the thing:  everyone in the NHL now knows what Leaf scouts apparently knew just over a year ago when they landed the biggest (long-term) impact player in the Beauchemin deal.  That, of course, is Gardiner.  Whether Anaheim under-estimated Gardiner, or was so desperate to make the playoffs one last time with what was left of their Cup-winning team from a few years previous, I don’t know.  But I do know I posted shortly after that deal was consumated that I was stunned that Bob Murray had given up what he did for Beauchemin.  I don’t care how “well” Beauchemin might play some nights for the Ducks, or how many minutes he plays on a team that, while hot right now, just hasn’t been that good in the Western Conference these last two seasons.  Beauchemin, while a generally reliable and dependable rearguard, was never, ever a front-line defenseman. To give up a kid like Gardiner for a guy Beauchemin’s age made no sense then (unless you were convinced he was the last piece to re-claiming the Cup…) - and no sense now.  You never, ever give away an elite young defense prospect without getting something unbelievable in return—and you certainly don’t do it for a relatively aging “d” man.

But that was then.  This is now.  Now, the talk is all about what the Leafs will/should do before (or at) the NHL trade deadline at the end of this month.  Some Leaf fans believe they can “stand pat” and work with what they have.  That thinking is based, to a certain extent, on the notion that the Leafs will have some expiring contracts coming off the books by next season, if I’m not mistaken, and there are youngsters like Frattin, Kadri and Colborne who can’t wait to play with the big club (and will carry modest contracts, comparably-speaking).  That view suggests these youngsters will provide extra offensive dash and some quality depth throughout an ever-improving line-up that may be a bit lacking right now in terms of “top-six” forward talent.

Then there are those who feel, if the Leafs do make a move or two, that the Leafs’ greatest need is on defense- that we need to obtain that hard to play against, shutdown-type of defenseman who can control the other team’s top offensive threats and play big minutes while doing so, especially at playoff time.

Still others think the Leafs could use an upgrade in goal, while there are also a fair number of Leaf observers who have made it clear that they would love to get their hands on one of, say, Ryan, Getzlaf, Nash, or an emerging name like van Riemsdyk in Philadelpbia.

The issue is this:  if you want to take the best player - or the best young player - on another guy’s team, we need to expect the Leafs to pay up.  I still hear people suggesting, “well, let’s give Kulemin, and ah…Scrivens and a, say, a second-rounder and we’ll take one of Getzlaf or Nash…”

C’mon.  I recognize that we Leaf fans see things too often through a very narrow Leaf-colored lens, and I know that we stole Gardiner and Phaneuf/Aulie in two separate trades.  And yes, I realize that isn’t ancient history.  Burke pulled off those deals within the last 48 months, basically.

But I would be shocked, knocked off my feet, whatever phrase comes to mind, to even think that we could acquire the best forward Anaheim has, or the best player Columbus has ever had, unless we give back something that is going to hurt.  So I say again:  If I’m Howson, or I am Murray, any talk involving my “best guys” means I absolutely insist on getting Gardiner back in the deal, and that’s just the beginning of the package.

I’m sure not giving up those guys for a second round pick and a “prospect”.  Way, way too many “prospects” become, well, former prospects—full stop.

So no, those GM’s would be absolutely off their rocker if they traded one of the guys I mentioned above (JVR in Philly is a little different, he’s not Giroux, after all, but even JVR should command something noteworthy in return…) without making sure Gardiner goes back the other way.

Here’s my question for you, and it is two-fold:  how badly would you want someone like Nash or Getzlaf/Ryan, if at all?  If you do want them, would you be prepared to trade Gardiner?

Or is Gardiner simply an untouchable in your mind, a guy that is not worth trading for anyone in the game right now?

As I mentioned above, I know we often see things through our blue and white eyes.  We overrate players, etc.. But while I’m not saying Gardiner is perfect (he makes miscues like any young player, but the guy has vision, can skate away from most problems, and oozes potential in, let’s say it again, the vein of a Niedermayer…) the kid can play.  And he should only get better and better.

A historical note:  twenty-some years ago, we traded away the draft pick that turned out to be New Jersey selecting Scott Niedermayer, when we acquired Tom Kurvers.  As good a player as Kurvers was, it was not worth Niedermayer.

In the past, we have also traded former very high draft choices,  young stud defensemen like Gary Nylund and Al Iafrate (albeit after both had had serious knee injuries…).  Do we want to go down that path again?

Is the opportunity to boost our team now with a superstar talent—now and for the next few years—worth giving up a kid that may be something special?

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts…..


  1. I don't think so...

    The key name is Scott Niedermayer...would you trade a 21 year old Scott Niedermayer for a 27 year old Rick Nash or 26 year old Getzlaf?

    I say no on Nash and maybe but I lean toawrds no on Getzlaf too (at least Getzlaf is center.)

    You can build a team for the next 10 to 15 years around a 21 year old Scott Niedermayer. You can't do that with Nash or Getzlaf, you have only 5 really good years left with them.

    Jake Gardiner might be a 21 year old version of Scott Niedermayer. He is just starting to shoot and take chances. Let's watch him another year and see what we really have before we trade him.

    To me the Leafs have some good firepower. They lack size in their forwards and they don't have a full set of elite shutdown checking forwards on their third and forth lines.

    It might be easier to add some really good defensive players on those lower lines.

    Also Matt Frattin has found his scoring touch again. He now has 10 goals in 11 games! Frattin was also a pretty good defensive forward.

    Why not bring Frattin up for a game or two and shift Colby Armstong down to the 4th line?

    If it works know that you can trade Lombardi at the deadline if a good offer comes along.

  2. After a glass-3/4-empty game like last night's, and the last few games, to be honest, I don't think we're close enough to really contend for the Cup to risk parting with Gardiner, who at the moment has nothing but upside. One high impact import is not going to turn the corner for us. And that's going to be the case until we have a goalie who can steal games, a shutdown defence pair, and some forwards who have the kind of determination to score evidenced by Manny Malhotra on his goal last night.
    I'd rather see how Gardiner develops - it looks like Leaf fans are going to have to be "patient" for at least another year anyway, and he's already on our team. We'd be set back 3 years if we gave up what it would take to land one of the so-called big fish. And let's face it - we don't really have that much depth outside our defencemen, and even they're not looking so hot these days. Kadri and Frattin are two more smallish guys who have shown flash but not a scoring touch, Colborne is a whole lot of potential, Scrivens and Rynnas the same...
    As a side note, off-topic, I'm tired of fans being excited we might make it to 8th, and accepting that as a goal for the team. There is no way Rick Nash, or Ryan Getzlaf, will make us a true contender, at the expense of three or four players. And what's the point of making the playoffs if you don't feel you can truly contend?

  3. Gerund, my thoughts exactly. This team will be lucky to win a couple of games in the playoff let alone a series or two. Why on earth would you trade Gardiner for anything to do that? Frankly, watching this team in the last month or so has been very disapointing. If I were Burke, I would be trading vets out the door because the sad truth is this is not yet a contending team. They are still a long, long way from being elite.

    I mentioned a couple of psots ago I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, I just hoped it wasn't the train coming down the tracks. More and more it looks like the train.

    I too am sick of people being excited about a turle derby to get to 8th place. Look at Ottawa this year, look at Philly a couple of years ago, second last and the next year back to a top contender. Teams can and do execute a one year rebuild. We are now 4 years into Burke's not interested in a 5 year rebuild and we are barely back to where we were, backing into the playoffs. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of all the excuses this managment team has. Just find a friggin way to win.

    Sorry about the Sunday morning rant but at least I feel better.

  4. Hi DP...well said. That's the player I was also referencing in the post...we can't predict he will bring everything that Nierdemayer did, but he shows a lot of the smarts, legs and skill set the the former Devil/Duck had...

  5. Gerund O'...Great post, as always. I especially like your point that "we have him already"....Hey, teams are dying for skill, constantly looking for a defenseman with talent. Here we have a guy who has all that and maybe more- and he's a Leaf already. We don't have to give up anything to get him.

    As for finishing 8th...well, you know I've said that here for years now, Gerund. The bar is so low right now, we're excited about finishing 8th, gleeful at the prospect of 7th. In the Quinn years the bar was never that low. And the fact that the Leafs had "money to spend" in that era only tells part of the story. The Rangers, for example, spent tons but couldn't produce anywhere near what the Leafs did under Quinn, year after year...

  6. Happy to provide a listening post for a bit of venting, Wilbur! You've expressed it well. 8th doesn't do it. Yes, teams can "squeak" into the playoffs and make a run for the Cup (Oilers, Flames a few years ago...) but I'm not sure this Leaf team is built to do that come playoff time. We're into the fourth year of the Burke build. It's time for results. As you cite, and as I've tried to explain here several times, you can do a successful re-build in less time. Heck, Florida was built from ashes, it feels like, and they are competitive- not a great team, but maybe good enough to make the playoffs...

  7. I agree with Gerund and Wilbur. We are not yet at the point where we are competitive enough to be attractive to a big name star. The rebuilding of the Leafs shows some promise to those of us starved for any kind of success, but realistically I can't see a big name star waiving his NTC to be traded to the Leafs. Not yet anyway.
    Having said that, you asked if we would be willing to trade Gardiner to get a top flight player from another team and my answer would also be an emphatic NO! He shows too much promise to ever let him go at this stage of his career. As said above, we have a top flight player prospect on our team right now. Let's see him develop.
    So, who would I be willing to give up to get a top flight player from another team? I would be quite prepared to part with Phaneuf. Not because he is not a good player but because you have to give something to get something. I think we have better potential in our minor system on defense than at the forward position so I say trade a big D man for a big centre/forward. I think Gunnarson is capable of anchoring the blue line and if we can keep the puck in the other end with good forward pressure, defence is less of a problem.

  8. Untouchable. Has to be. If he's not, the entire team realizes this season is in the can, and we lose a potentially generational D-man for what may or may not be what we need. There's lot's and lot's of ways to get what we need, and Burke has proven often he can get things without gutting the team. There's no going back from here, only forward. Why not trade Connolly and the healthy Lombardi along with Armstrong for picks and prospects at the deadline, give a couple Marlies a shot and use those assets in the summer? Use excess picks at the draft to trade for what we really need.

  9. Great post, Ed. And I love your point on Gunnarsson. As I've said here for a long,long time, Gunner is not a guy you want to give away. Gardiner either....

  10. I hear you of the things Burke has done well is obtain good players in trades without harming the current roster.

    As for Connolly, Lombardi, etc...I just don't know how much the Leafs can get back for them...I guess we'll see. Thanks as always.

  11. Hey, the way that line played last night, 3rds and 4ths is fine, along with a good D-oriented 3rd or 4th liner. Here's a great list to pick from- (look at GA/20 and go down, waaaaaaay down. What I saw there is just shocking).
    Also of a minor note, Gardiner and Kulemin the only + players last night.

  12. I wouldn't be so tough on Bob Murray for the Gardiner deal. Yes, you simply don't trade a young prospect for an aging defenseman. But the reason Burke got such a high calibre player in Gardiner was because he was taking on the Lupul contract. In hindsight, Lupul was a huge steal. I think the deal is very similar to the Franson and Lombardi for Lebda deal. Teams have to pay a price (in both these cases, it is a good young Dman) for Toronto to take on inflated contracts of injury ridden players.

    I would like to see Toronto acquire an impact player, but like so many other Leaf fans, I'm unwilling to pay such a steep price. So, I guess I'm of the opinion that the Leafs shouldn't deal for Nash or Ryan or whomever.

    Schenn is developing into a top shut down guy. I see the Gardiner-Schenn pairing being the top pairing for years to come. When these guys come into their own, they will be unstoppable. I'm not of the opinion that the Leafs need a big shutdown guy like the Hal Gills of the world.

    I see Burke moving out players and contracts he may not need anymore. I can see Komi, Army, or Lombo being moved, for a small return and increased cap space (Parise, anyone?).

  13. I am a dissenter. I don't think Jake Gardiner is untouchable.

    Consider this:

    1. Leafs need a superstar

    We *never* get superstar players. The closest we have are Phaneuf and Kessel. I remember when Dion was traded to the Leafs--my reaction was "are you kidding? Dion is a Leaf? We *never* get superstars!"

    Look at the teams that win Cups. They all have superstars. We need to start getting some to get into those upper echelon of teams.

    2. Window of opportunity: superstar availability

    It's not very often *at all*, especially in the NHL of the past few years with fewer trades, that superstars become available. We can't count on free agency to get a superstar to come to Toronto. There are too many factors working against us (i.e. 30 teams bidding for those guys, salary cap, term, etc).

    When a superstar like Rick Nash becomes available, you *HAVE TO* take advantage of the opportunity because they are few and far between.

    3. Leafs are desperate for a power forward.

    We all know the Leafs aren't the biggest team up front. We all know for the past few years the #1 desire for the team is a big, mean, power forward. Now one is available, and he has SKILL, and he is from the GTA (=passion), and he is a good character guy (he was a CAPTAIN of an NHL team). What more do you want??

    What Rick Nash brings to the Leafs is *exactly* what the Leafs need and *exactly* what Burke has been preaching since he got here.

    4. What's the best Jake Gardiner can be?

    Does that eclipse what we know Rick Nash can do *now*?

    Even if Jake Gardiner becomes as good as everyone is making him out to be, if he becomes the next Scott Neidermayer, does that trump the absolute desperate need the Leafs have for a power forward that can pot 60 points a year?

    Does a superstar Jake Gardiner trump a superstar Rick Nash that fits perfectly with the teams needs?

    To me, he doesn't.


    5. It's a package deal.

    Let's say Columbus wants Jake Gardiner + one of Kadri/Colborne/Frattin + an NHL defenceman + a draft pick.

    If Gardiner is the center piece of the deal, what makes you think Burke can't make the trade work by negotating those "accessory" parts down? i.e. keep Kadri/Colborne/Frattin and give them instead a guy like Tyler Biggs, Sondre Olden, Jerry D'Amigo, Jesse Blacker, one of our #2 tier prospects.

  14. Jack H...I think you make a fair point, Jack, with regard to Bob Murray and why he made the Beauchemin deal. My view, though, is that he did not need to give up the best young prospect they had. You just don't make the deal if you have to give up a young player with that kind of ceiling. Look somewhere else to unload salary, or offer something else to make it worthwhile for a team to take on Lupul's contract....

    Schenn is seemingly taking a lot of heat lately from some Leaf fans, even being benched by Wilson. But while I'm not sure I'm seeing him as a premier defenseman, at only 22, it's awfully early to give up on a guy with four years experience in the NHL already.

    Whether anyone will take Lombardi, Armstrong or Komisarek, I don't know. They all, in my view, bring something, but if I was the GM of a contending team, I'd be looking elsewhere, if at all possible...

    Thanks for a good post.

  15. Solid post, Peter. Well thought-out. Thanks. Will be interesting to see if a) the Nash discussions with Toronto are serious and b) if it would be part of a more elaborate package....

  16. I don't see the Leafs serious enough to be winning the cup within the next 3-5 years, but by that time they could be a top 6-4th in the East team if they stand pat instead of a 12-7th team.

    Just imagine in 3-5 years if this team was contending with Phaneuf, Liles, Kessel, Gunnarsson, and possibly Lupul being the guys heading into their 30s or in the early 30s as our veteran presence and that much more mature.

    Guys like Frattin and Holzer could still be around, the sorta late bloomers a la Cleary/Franzen and Beauchemin.

    Players like Gardiner, Schenn, Kadri, Colberne, and Blacker would be where Phaneuf/Kessel and compant are now.

    And guys like McKegg, Biggs, Stuart, Nicholls, Ross, Carrick, Olden, and Granberg. Sitting in positions that Kadri, Frattin, Holzer, Aulie, and Gardiner are currently in.

    This team could be good once they are no longer "the 2nd yougest team in the NHL" and start to come together in growth as a person and player.

    As a GM you need to assess what you want your team to be, what it currently is, and how things will be 3-5 years from now. They biggest problem the 90s Leafs faced was GMs THOUGHT we were a team we weren't and they mortgaged for a push. When everything settled after the push, nothing was there to continue it in the next 3-5 years.

    Parts like Colborne, Frattin, Kadri, Franson, Aulie, Holzer,

  17. You raise an intriguing scenario, Skill2Envy. It is something very interesting that you propose. How this all works within the current "cap" structure, I don't know, but I certainly see - and like - your point. Keep building the team, let them gain experience. The young guys will be proven vets and provide leadership etc. by then...

    That all said, I'm not sure how people will feel about the prospect of waiting another 3 to 5 years..??