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Nick Lidstrom’s retirement just reinforces for me: don’t trade Carl Gunnarsson

I won’t even try to compete with the many outstanding writers who are penning thoughtful pieces and spinning fine prose about Nick Lidstrom finally retiring in Detroit.  I’ll simply say this:  Lidstrom was certainly in a class by himself, both on and off the ice.  How many guys brought the near full-package (in fairness, we can’t say he was a physical defenseman, per say, but otherwise the guy was about as close to flawless as we could find…) to being an NHL defenseman—and looked so at ease doing it?

What the announcement did for me, though, is trigger an instant reaction- and it’s something I’ve posted about here before:  I really hope the Maple Leafs don’t end up dealing away their own Swedish defenseman, Carl Gunnarsson.

Now, before anyone thinks I am comparing the two in terms of talent levels, well, I’m not.  But Gunner is a defensemen who goes about his business pretty quietly, and happens to have a few of Lidstrom’s other traits as well.  While Gunnarsson has shown some offensive ability, he is more of a thinking-man’s defensive defensemen.  He’s the guy that generally makes the players around him better.  He can move the puck, and while (like the long-time Detroit captain) he is not a big hitter or particularly physical, he is generally exact in his play and less prone to major gaffes than many fellow NHL defensemen.

I just think Gunnarsson, while he may never be an all-star, is the kind of player you need when a team is already good and actually has a shot at something.  (Presumably, the Leafs are now heading in that very direction...)  I think he can be a big-minute guy, or a very solid 3-4 defender on a really good team.  He is calm, smart and by all accounts a solid dressing-room guy.  I can’t speak to his leadership skills, but his on-ice contributions alone make him an invaluable organizational asset.

At 25, he surely has his best years ahead of him, right?

Here’s my concern:  The Leafs, quite reasonably, will not part with Jake Gardiner in any deal to upgrade the "top-six" forward base.  Phaneuf , as the much ballyhooed captain, is unlikely to go anywhere.  So who is the most reliable, dependable d-man the blue and white have that would be attractive to an elite team  looking for a solid piece to add to their defense corps—and may be willing to part with some good forwards to get that valuable asset? 

That would be Gunnarsson. 

For the Leafs to acquire a big-time offensive player, it would likely take more than an unproven minor-leaguer to conclude that kind of a major trade.  Unlike a young Marlie defense prospect who holds much NHL “promise” as a trade asset, Gunner is not only young but already has three relatively successful seasons in the NHL behind him, averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time a night.  He is just entering his prime years as a NHL defenseman.

Mostly, I think the guy has a nice—and relatively high— NHL ceiling.  Leaf fans  notice when he’s not in the line-up and he delivers reliable and consistent performances most nights.

Do you agree?


  1. I agree on all accounts Michael, defenders like Gunnarsson don't grow on trees so its got to be a pretty nice package coming back before management considers it

    Another quality I'd add to your list for Gunnarsson is 'low maintenance'. Doesn't seem to matter who you plug him in the lineup with, how many minutes he plays or what situations he's out there for, the guy consistently goes about his quiet, effective game without a peep.

    If the right deal comes along sure, same with any player, but he's a guy I really would like to see in a Leaf jersey as he enters the typical 25-32 year old prime of his defensive career.

  2. I think your "low maintenance" point on Gunnarsson is a key one, Ben. Sometimes even the organizations themselves under-estimate how important that is- until they have to deal with a good player who isn't...

  3. Everything said about Gunner is true. I'd love to watch him skate for the next 10 years as a Leaf. But it always depends on the return. If he's the added piece that brings the right guy in return (hint - first line center - hint), then you have to make that trade.

    Still, this article was right on the mark. He's a valuable part of our blueline.

  4. I think Gunnarsson is one of those guys who kind of slips between the cracks, although he seems to be appreciated by many who frequent Leafs blogs.
    There isn't really any individual aspect of his play that stands out, either as a particular strength or weakness. He just seems solid, but not spectacular, all around.
    I also think of him as a low maintenance player, not just in terms of his attitude, I think he's the kind of player who can give very good value for his contract.
    I'd really like to see him stay. On the other hand I wasn't happy to see the Leafs trade away my favourite forward, defenseman and prospect for a guy who got benched in the playoffs but Mats turned out to be pretty good for the Leafs.

  5. I might add that he doesn't eat up much salary either. So getting the best value for money he must be up there with Bozak and Brown. So if we don't trade Gardiner Shehn Phaneuf, and i am presuming there are not any takers I presume for Komesarik. Then that leaves us with Liles and Franson who would be expendable. Ian White reminds me of Gunner in that he was reliable, not exceptional in any particular skill but good at positioning and reading the play. Do we miss Ian White now that he is gone? Maybe. But at the end of the day we must look at who we get in return for Gunner if he is dealt. If the return is someone like Getzlaf or J Stall , then we probably don't miss him as much as we think we might.

  6. Thanks Anon. And I do agree with your point: any player can be moved if it's the "right" deal.

  7. Well said, Mironov's Nose. Gunner is one of those quietly effective guys, for sure.

    And as you cite, sometimes trades some fans hate initially (Sundin) turn out OK.

  8. I will concede, blueandwhite, that if the return for Gunner was either Getzlaf or Staal, I would be hard-pressed not part with him if necessary.

    Your point on Ian White is a good one. I liked him as a Leaf and while he has certainly "moved around" in recent years, it looks like he may have found a home where he is appreciated with the Red Wings.

  9. In 76 games last year, he put up 19 points. Yes his plus/minus was okay, but I really don't find him all that solid of a defenceman. I really think if the Leafs could put together a package in a trade scenario, Gunner should be a part of it. I honestly don't see him as long term in TO. I think there is more potential in Schenn staying around.