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Leafs have timing of Gardiner assignment backwards—and renewed Luongo talk

It’s not necessarily shocking that Jake Gardiner is now playing with the Marlies, however temporarily.  The more peculiar decision, from my perspective, was why the Leafs didn’t give the young defenseman an opportunity to spend some time with the Marlies after coming off a lengthy concussion-related absence, rather than having him jump into the Leaf line-up.

Gardiner was quite possibly the “surprise of the year” for the Leafs a season ago.  (I realize an argument could be made for Lupul, who many of us likely assumed was almost taken as a salary dump from the Ducks in the Beauchemin deal.)  I sure didn’t expect the American-born D-man to make the team and play as he did as a first-year NHL’er, after spending virtually no time with the Marlies the season before at the tail end of his U.S. collegiate career.

I would have thought it would make sense to allow Gardiner to get his timing and feel for the game back by re-joining Dallas Eakins and the Marlies—the squad he had played with (through the lockout) all of this 2012-’13 season, while pretty much standing that league on its ear.  That he was put on a plane and started his NHL season this past Wednesday in Pittsburgh was as perplexing as Carlyle starting James Reimer in the same game.  The Reimer thing (two weak goals aside) worked out, because the Leafs scored more than two goals.  (If we had lost 2-1 after the bad goals given up by Reimer, fans would not have been so forgiving, though I liked Reimer’s overall game against the Pens. I had figured Reimer to get his first start in a “winnable” game at home against the Islanders.)  I thought Gardiner would start with the Marlies, or, if necessary, ease him in against the Islanders, at home.

In any event, he is back with the Marlies, where he should have been in the first place.  The only other observation I have is this:  I hope the Leafs have communicated this all clearly with the young defender.  These things don’t seem to trouble the ever-calm Gardiner, but I want to believe that this has been positioned to him as strictly getting his legs back.  If it’s Carlyle being ticked that Gardiner is not playing the way Carlyle wants him to, then there are bigger challenges ahead. 

I mentioned here in my last post that Gardiner was skating past the play too much for my liking against the Islanders.  He has great wheels, as we all know, but even he can’t just skate in circles, as fast as he is.  Whether his semi-lackadaisical approach prompted the demotion (now it’s a demotion; before, it would just have been an injury rehab assignment) in Carlyle’s eyes, again, we may never hear the real story.

Never dull here in Leafville, eh?


While no one was exactly waxing poetic about the Leaf goaltending through the first three games of the season, the team had only given up 5 goals in those contests, and while Scrivens and Reimer were not perfect, they fought through and made some key stops to help the team win a couple of those games.

Game 4 started off quite well, with Scrivens making some big stops early on, but he struggled later—with lots of his teammates part of the overall team letdown. (I’m guessing Reimer will start Saturday night in New York, but at the same time, Carlyle has been unpredictable, so who knows?)

But if (and maybe this “if” won’t come to pass) the Leaf goaltending does not measure up as the season moves along, you can’t help but wonder if a much-anticipated trade will finally be in the offing.  Those who know my thinking here at VLM recognize that I don't typically worry a lot until about the 10 or 15 game mark of a new season.  But the compacted schedule does create a bit different dynamic this year.  It’s not that I have high expectations for the Leafs.  Nonis made it quite clear at his mini-presser just before the opening game that this is a patient rebuild process, so we shouldn’t expect a lot.

In truth, if the Leafs really felt they were contenders, there is no way they would go with an unproven (at the NHL level) Scrivens and a guy who is coming off a serious injury (Reimer).  They just wouldn’t.   Goaltending is too important to go with guys who have not shown an ability to deliver consistently at this level.

But here’s my question for you today—and yes, it has to do with Roberto Luongo.  I’ve covered my feelings on the subject at length here, and won’t make you endure those views again (click here if you want to read more on that).  Some people would dearly like to see the veteran netminder in blue and white and feel the long-term cap hit is really not that cumbersome in light of the new CBA.  Others are less in love with the Luongo idea.

So here’s your task—check one of the following boxes on this question and give me your honest-to-goodness opinion, straight from the heart:

  1. You want Luongo, but only if the cost is middlish draft picks (3rd or 4th round, say) and an expendable (older) defenseman or forward.
  2. You want Luongo and are prepared at this point to give up a serious draft choice (a first-rounder) or a young Leaf player with legitimate high-end potential (Gardiner, Kadri, someone along those lines…).
  3. You’d only take Luongo if we dumped bad salary going back the other way.
  4. You’re just not interested in Luongo, no matter what.

Vancouver GM Mike Gillis will make a move at some point.  Does he have to?  Maybe not in the next week or so, but the issue is a distraction in Vancouver, and they will want to get this off their plate sooner rather than later.  It’s possible, as I’ve said here before, that Gillis could hold on to Luongo until the deadline, and wait for teams in contention who want an upgrade in goal—or more desperately, a team that needs to replace an injured number-one guy.  Then suddenly, Gillis might get closer to what he wants.

But for now, as a Leaf enthusiast, where do you stand?


For those following the "Leaf Matters" podcast, the latest episode is now up on iTunes and on the Podalmighty Nework.  Look for Episode 27.


  1. Let's just wait and see how it goes until its more clear that we a must make a deal. Reimer just won against Pitsburgh...perhaps he is back?

    "You want Luongo, but only if the cost is middlish draft picks (3rd or 4th round, say) and an expendable (older) defenseman or forward." depends how we do in the next few games and identity of the veteran.

    "You want Luongo and are prepared at this point to give up a serious draft choice (a first-rounder) or a young Leaf player with legitimate high-end potential (Gardiner, Kadri, someone along those lines…)."

    No! Kadri is 23rd in NHL scoring right now. Let's try him with a Kessel and JVR for some shifts or a game or two (for a true number one line) before we even think of something like that.

    I am ok with sending Gardiner back to the Marlies. We gave him a look, he didn't look right. I liked Komisarek in the Pitsburgh game.

    I actually like that Carlyle can easily dispatch players to the Marlies. Perhaps the threat of demotion will keep the players playing defense and keep the Islander type games to a minimum.

  2. I'd like to believe Reimer is back, too, DP. We'll see!

  3. Re: Gardiner. From what I've read, Carlyle is very straightforward with the players and lets them know exactly what he expects. There's no hidden agenda or secret plan. I'm sure Gardiner was told why he's going to the Marlies, and I'm equally sure we'll see him back. I think he got into the games he did precisely so he could be assessed by management - his doctors said he was OK, he said he was OK. Whether he is or isn't, I don't think he'll feel he's being "demoted" as some sort of punishment.
    As for Luongo, I don't want to see him at all. I'm fine with letting this team and the new coach develop their chemistry. If we finish out of the playoffs, then there's a strong batch of draft picks, one of which will surely help us down the road. But if we get Luongo and make the playoffs, thus getting a middle pick, what have we achieved? We won't be good enough to really make strides, and we won't be helping ourselves for the future. It doesn't make sense. Like you, if I understand correctly, I don't think management believes we're ready to make a serious run yet. The prudent course is to let the universe unfold as it should, as someone once said.
    (To be clear, I'm not advocating "tanking". If we do make a run, great! But damaging our future - because a good player or two will be going to Vancouver for Luongo -for a middling present doesn't make sense).

  4. I completely agree with you on the Gardiner situation, Michael. It would have made more sense to allow him to first get into action with the Marlies, and bring him up once he started playing big minutes down there. I think we could use him on our power play units, I'm somewhat surprised to see Kostka playing there and not at all sure he brings a whole lot to the man advantage. Maybe it's the preference of the coaching staff to keep our defensive pairings playing together as much as possible. Outside power play, Kostka's been fine. And it's not like he's ruining our power play, I just don't feel he's our best option out there.

    I think many people who want Nonis to go after Luongo have unrealistic expectations about what we would have to give in return. Sure, I would be tempted if he was available for something like Komisarek and a conditional second if we made the playoffs, but if that was the case, he would already be here. Sacrificing any significant futures to get him would be defensible only if we were an elite netminder away from being legitimate contenders, and let's be serious, we're definitely not there.

    So Scrivens didn't play well against the Islanders? Big deal, neither did many others. If Leafs can start consistently producing the kind of play seen in the first period, our goalies have a legit chance to be competitive. If we mostly see the kind of horror that came after the first period of that game, we are more in need of a miracle than a top goalie.

  5. I'm sure Gardiner will be back soon, Gerund O'. He's a Leaf, without question. I just thought it would have made sense to have him get back to 'normal' with the Marlies, where he had been comfortable anyway and avoid this up and down stuff.

    Appreciate hearing your thoughts on Luongo. I'm just interested to hear how fans feel at this point. Thanks Gerund.

  6. MIchael,

    It seems to me that the goaltending is still what it has been since Belfour retired. Full of hope and dreams and if's and but's. The fact is that at this point in time Scrivens and Reimer, do not put the Leafs in the above average, or even average goaltending position in the NHL. We may like them to be better and someday they may be. Today is not that day. If we are going to consider any playoff possibility, goaltending needs to be better, a lot better.

    A third or fourth round pick, and Tim Connolly would be acceptable to me if the return was Luongo. I don't care so much about his contract. I don't want to watch Leaf goalies beaten high glove side anymore. Or low glove side as was Scrivens adventure the other game. Someone in the net that is a proven guy with a great track record. Its either that or we concede that for the next 3 years, we are rebuilding. I am fine with that as well. They need to just pick one. If they don't make the big trade, ok. If they do, lets go. Just make up your minds already.

    There are a lot of left side defenceman on the team right now. Gardiner is simply not as good or, expensive as the guys that are still here. I am ok with him getting big minutes under Dallas Eakins tutelage. I would really like Mark Fraser to get in to some games. He is a Carlyle type of defender to my eyes.

  7. You've hit the nail on the head, as it were CGLN. Yes, we all recognize goaltending is important. But if the overall team play is suspect, it will take spectacular goaltending to make this team even competitive, much less a serious contender, and I'm sure management knows that.

    The likelihood, I sense, is that Luongo goes elsewhere. Chicago (though they have had a tremendous start and may not feel they have a need now), Florida, some surprise destination. But Toronto won't give up what Gillis wants, and Gillis is holding out for a "hockey trade", not a salary dump.

  8. My instincts are, as I just mentioned to CGLN, Jim, that Luongo is not coming here. My sense is the majority of Leaf fans would only want Luongo if (and it's a big if) we don't really give up anything in return, just as you suggest above.

    I think we all agree Gardiner will be fine, and back here, soon. Thanks Jim.

  9. Firstly not at all worried about the Gardiner decision. Gives someone else (Franson?) minutes and perhaps a chance to showcase someone for a team that needs D help of which there are a few.

    I've admittedly flip flopped on the Luongo thing initially liking it and now hating the idea. Now that his cap hit counts even if he retires with 3 or 4 years left on it I want no part. Also... this team isn't just a goalie away. I'd like to see the Leafs go thru this season with what they have. If what they have lands us a high pick so be it. With another young piece and plenty of money to spend next year I'd be pleased.

    In the meantime I'm happy to see the kids play.

    Go Leafs Go!

  10. I do wonder if other Leafers are kind of going back and forth on the Luongo notion, Andy. Who wouldn't want an elite NHL goalie, if there was no cost other than a reasonable (in modern-day terms) salary?

    But if the cost is a long-term contract that may be cumbersome down the road, even slightly, against the gap - and promising young players who already have shown they can play in the NHL - it's a less enticing proposition for many fans, I sense.

    Thanks Andy. Enjoy the Ranger game tonight.

  11. Third time I have said this but it bears repeating: We loaded up Boston by giving them three very high end players (Rask, Seguin and Hamilton) and got one coming the other way (Kessel). My greatest fear is a similar player movement that loads up Vancouver with Bozak, Kadri and a high pick in exchange for Luongo. Kadri and Bozak are showing too much now to let go of them and any picks risk being high ones given the current evolution of the team. As I said from day one, salary dump(s) for Luongo would be the only move to make sense. Old CBA, new CBA, black dog, white dog, its still a dog. Let the universe unfold as it should ...

  12. I always think back to your earlier posts here, Bobby C., regarding Luongo. You have been steadfast in your view that the only way the Leafs should make this move is if very little of hockey "value" goes the other way. Thanks for reinforcing your view and chiming in on this (admittedly) somewhat tired topic today, Bobby.

  13. Roberto Luongo has declined to waive his NTC to go to the Lesfs so this is topic is pointless.

  14. Anon: That is news to me ... Reference please ...?

  15. I'm not sure where things stand along those lines, Bobby C.. We all heard a long while back that Luongo was not keen necessarily on the Toronto idea. But my guess is that if Luongo is desperate enough (and he is) and his preferred destination (Florida) does not come through, he may be more than willing to consider options before too long.

  16. Michael, I am not sure if Anon is referring to a particular source or not. It kind of jarred me to read his statement, when it seems unlikely that Luongo would go on record as declining to waive his NTC to TO, even if it were true. So, it's quite a statement to make in the absence of a reliable source ... We really need a reference for such a statement to accept it as fact. If it were in fact true then Anon would be right, it's essentially wasted ink. However, I cannot for the life of me recall reading a quote by Luongo to that effect ...

  17. I haven't heard anything official, either, Bobby.

  18. I'll go with 1A(or better, yet, 3A)... I think things could work out (a la Belfour's age) if we got Luongo for 5 years, but only at a low expense. I'm just not that interested in the risks associated with the appearance of inconsistency at critical moments (playoffs).

    On average and save percentage, he appears very consistent and may get us into the playoffs. My concern pertains to the long term impact of his contract. Unless the management is able to massage the contracts to allow us a 1C as well (plus re-sign or UFA replace some guys next year), then I find Luongo to be an asset we can 'pass on' while awaiting a more controllable contract.

    I kinda' like the idea of a team that grows together and still think Reimer/Scrivens is worth a look-see for the rest of the year to see how things work out.

    I agree with you, Michael, that Gardiner ought to have started with the Marlies on a conditioning stint, but I'm wondering if this sort of arrangement (2 games up before reassignment) isn't a matter of honour (like the arrangement with Colton Orr).

    What I mean is that Gards went to the AHL without complaint and became a huge part of that team - a team where he was concussed - with the possible/probable assurance that he would start with the Leafs after the lockout would end.

    I don't know the CBA well enough, but also wonder if the fact that Toronto is carrying 22 players (vs. 23) means that Gards keeps his NHL salary for this 'conditioning' time with the Marlies?? It might have been necessary for him to play a game in the NHL for this to be possible (and to fulfill the proposed scenario). Given that he's not ready (and Randy gave him 2 games to sort out the kinks), I'm thinking this is a reasonable explanation for the discrepancy between what ought to be done and what we are seeing.

    Clearly, Gardiner is not back to his former self yet, so I fully agree with him finding his game with the Marlies for a while. I just think this may be one of those things that builds loyalty and trust within the organization.

  19. If the Gardiner scenario unfolded as you suggest might have been the case, InTimeFor62, then there is some logic to the decision. That said, if the feeling now is that Gardiner is somehow "not right", I do still wonder about the wisdom of letting him play at that level (and with the attendant risk of injury?) until first getting his feet wet with the Marlies. But I hear what you're saying.

    I assume this is simply a question of a conditioning assignment, not a matter of lingering concerns about Gardiner's health.

    As for Luongo, I'll put you with those who would be OK with a Luongo trade as long as the return to Vancouver was minimal. Thanks InTimeFor62.

  20. I think some of what's missing in this Luongo debate is whether or not we believe players play better in front of good goalies. Could Luongo's presence improve the play of a weakish defence corps that doesn't have to worry every mistake will end up in the net? Or give the offence a little more confidence to take chances? I believe so. And I still believe we should go after Luongo, who is an elite goaltender and though expensive, would be around for the long haul. I'd rather see the young players in front of Luongo develop their games with some feeling of being supported in net. I also don't think Reimer or Scrivens, much as I like them, are good enough. Before Kadri's hot start, I felt it would be worth sending him the other way for Luongo. Not Gardiner though. I won't feel bad if we have to pay what seems like a high price for Luongo. He's a veteran with undeniably high skill who knows what it's like to fight for the big prize. One possibly painful trade, and we'd get the goaltending issues out of the way, and continue building from there. Good thing I'm not GM, I guess!

  21. Some very good points, PF. Thanks. As you may know, I've posted here before about why I'm not a Luongo guy, but you raise form fair points about the influence he could have on a rather young Leaf squad. We have been a fragile roster for years and one of the reasons has been, yes, inconsistent goaltending - and the timing of bad goals, which kills the team's confidence. Thanks for visiting.