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?