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Should Gardiner stay or go? Yes, it’s time for the real games to begin

It’s becoming a bit of a recent tradition that the Maple Leafs wrap-up their lengthy, cramped pre-season schedule with a home and home match-up with the Red Wings. (It's hard to really dislike the Wings, at least for me.  I saw them when the once-proud franchise really started to struggle in the late 1960s, and it took the return of the legendary Ted Lindsay as GM and then Jimmy Devellano coming over from the successful Islanders' organization to ultimately right the ship.  They have built a tremendous management team over the last 20+ seasons.  Classy players like Yzerman and Lidstrom have been the face of the franchise.  They just seem to do things right...)

The last pre-season games are not necessarily a harbinger of things to come, of course, but it’s probably a good thing to be up against strong opposition before you start the regular season and are playing for real.  I have to admit I am a bit surprised by the apparent "competition" we've witnessed throughout Leaf camp.  A few weeks ago it looked like every position but maybe one was essentially locked down.  At least that's the way it sounded, listening to Burke and Wilson.

But there have been some interesting twists along the way (including, unfortunately, some injuries).  Where does Lombardi now fit in the "bottom-six"?  With Kadri out for a bit, is that an automatic opening for Frattin?

And if nothing else, all these pre-season games has given us a chance to debate the merits, for example, of whether Jake Gardiner should start the season with the big club.

I'm guessing I'm in the minority, but I just feel as though he should start the year playing big minutes with the Marlies.  Oh, I certainly see what everyone else is seeing- the smooth, almost  Niedemayer-like skating,   the shot, the passing skills.  But I also see him in defensive situations and sense he could use more in the way of experience at the pro level.

I have little doubt he can play in the league now from an overall talent perspective.  I just remember too many times in the past when we rushed kids.  Not to raise the spectre of the early '80s, but we did it then, to the detriment of good young defensemen.  More recently, people forget that Carlo Colaiacovo looked great one pre-season and "made" the team.  Then he made a few errors, became tentative and ended up being sent back down.  That can rock your confidence.

When Gardiner comes up, I would like it to be for good.  I just don't like the way the whole Kadri situation has been handled from day one and I'd rather that scenario not be repeated.  And while it's clear Gardiner can play, why not start with the Marlies and then, if one of the current seven Leaf defensemen play their way out of the line-up for some reason, bring him into the mix.

I'm not sure any young player has ever been damaged by playing in the AHL.  I sure can't think of one.

I'm just not sure others have played themselves out of a spot.  Aulie has struggled at times in pre-season, sure, and Gunnarsson has been only OK at times.  People love to debate whether Komisarek has a role here (I think he does, as a low-minutes guy who others look up to...).  But if Gardiner stays, who sits?

How about you- should Gardiner stay or start the season with the Marlies?

In any event, I’ve covered a number of subjects in recent days pertaining to the  Leafs, their coaching situation, Burke’s next big challenge and of course, the much-discussed roster possibilities.

I’ve also shared a few memories about some wonderful old Leafs, and also about one of the finest players I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing play (and later meeting) in person.  Check the links below.

If you’ve missed any of the following stories, click away (for a wider list of older posts, check the right-hand side of the site):

-wondering about Ron Wilson’s fate

-how Burke’s job is just now getting difficult

-memories of one of the greatest of all time, on and off the ice, Montreal legend Jean Beliveau

-posts on two terrific old time 1950s/early ‘60s Maple Leafs, Gerry James and Gerry Ehman

-would you un-do the Kessel trade?

-Is Luke Schenn  worth more to the Leafs or some other team?

-how injuries spared the Leafs last season, but maybe not this year....

-how this year’s Leaf squad stacks up against the last Leaf team to make the playoffs

There is always something to discuss when it comes to the Leafs. It’s time for real hockey to star anew.

As always, I look forward to your comments.


  1. After being a Leaf fan for so many years, it was not until this preseason that I saw the blindness of some leaf fans.... Sorry my harangue is about the negativity that people have had against Komi and the Monster.

    I agree with you when you say the AHL has not been detrimental to any hockey player. But if the youngster is getting the the opportunity to play 16-21 min a game against the best players in the world, how would that be detrimental? I actually believe that Komi is the best player to partner up with Gardiner because he is a vet, and has thrived with a marque offensive D-man. I also believe that Komi has finished very strong in the preseason and will have a bounce back season. I personally hope that the Gardiner/Komi duo gets about 17min a night, and if it dosent work out by game 8, send Gardiner down for some fine tuning.

    One more thing! I hope Wilson does not play the loyalty card with Reimer, as he did with Guigure last year. Reimer needs to be eased into the starting role, and the Monster and Scrivens have shown glimpses of excellence.


  2. Completely agree with you Michael. I haven't heard of any prospect hurt by time in the AHL either (though I suppose thats hard to quantify) and I think Dallas Eakins in particular would help the young Gardiner make the transition to professional hockey.

    I'm not worried about the lack of skill of Gardiner I'm worried about him burning out over the course of an 82 game season, I'm worried about his maturity level (as with all 21 year olds) and I don't see the reason to rush him with all this alleged depth on defence.

    The Leafs are finally in a position where they don't need to rush young players like Gardiner, why not take advantage of that?

  3. I want to believe Komi is doing ok/going to have the bounce-back I so strongly want him to. I just did not see anywhere near $4.5M a season play out of him this pre-season, the GWG notwithstanding. He needs to be as smart and as much of a leader as his experience has provided him capacity for, and I don't see it yet. As for Gardiner, love, love the guy. But I want to see him start with the Marlies (by the way, how many of us are at least hoping/planning to go see them this year? I know I am for the first time) and take his call-up when it comes, which it most definitely will.

  4. I like Gardiner a lot, but last night he looked like he needs a stint with the Marlies. I'm sure we'll see him up with the Leafs before year's end, and as you say, time in the AHL doesn't seem to hurt anyone.
    I also agree with with Bester30 about Komisarek. I've been championing him since last year. It took him a while to fully feel confident that his injury had healed, but he played just fine in the second half, and has looked good to me in pre-season. Leaf fans - maybe fans everywhere - love a whipping boy (hello Larry Murphy!), and it's Komi these days. Even when he's not to blame, he gets the blame! I hope things go better this year.
    I'd say our candidate for whipping boy may be one Mr James Reimer. I hope for the best, but I'm seeing evidence of a Toskala-like regression so far. I'd say Gustavsson outplayed him in the pre-season.
    It'll be interesting to see the reactions to the cuts that will be announced tomorrow, apparently.
    Let the games begin!

  5. This is a very tough decision. It is essentially the politics of the game vs how do we ice the best team possible vs what is best for the development of our youngsters.

    In terms of the Kadri-Frattin debate, it was Kadri's spot to lose, and he did nothing but prove he has great chemistry with Bozak and Army, his injury will give Frattin the spot out of camp, but again, like I said before, when Kadri returns, Leafs management need to hand him that spot to show that they have confidence in him (he needs some support, as much as he wouldn't like to admit it.)

    Gardiner has looked better than Gunnarsson, Franson, and Komi. The main reason behind this is that he is a completely different style of player. If we compare him to the one offensive defensemen we have, I wouldn't say he has been as good as Liles. But does putting him in your line up make the team better? Is breaking up the Phaneuf-Aulie combo worth it? I would answer yes to the first, and no to the latter.

    So the politics of the game are outweighing the ability to ice the best team, and to develop prospects properly. A combo of Gardiner-Blacker on the Marlies would be phenomenal. Blacker can learn from Gardiner's offensive ability. And Gards can learn Blacker's physical and defensive game, while giving Blacker the opportunity to pinch up.

    The Leafs are reportedly looking to "blow a hole in the line up" my guess is Gardiner starts in the minors until injuries or the Leafs make a deal.

  6. Thanks everyone- Bester 30, Ben, KidK, Gerund O' and Jack H...You all come at this a bit differently, but all are well thought-out perspectives.

    I sense we all agree that Gardiner certainly has the skill level to play in the league right now, but some time "learning his craft" would not hurt at the AHL level.

    I like Ben's point that we should finally have reached a point where we no longer need to "rush" guys into the line-up. If we have depth, let's use it- now.

    Gerund O' strikes a chord when discussing "whipping boys". Lebda was a recent one.

    Those who have followed this site will know that, like KidK, I have been hopeful of a Komi return to prominence for over a year, now. It can still happen. Confidence is so important in life- and sports, of course.

    Bester30 raises an interesting thought about Reimer. We are expecting an awful lot for a young guy with not even a full NHL season behind him.

    And Jack raises the political reality in the cap world, which may also help nudge the organization to give Gardiner lots of time early on with the Marlies. If Gardiner stays, other dominies have to fall, eh?

    Thanks all.

  7. I might add this situation also reminds me of a very recent NCAA->NHL situation that went somewhat poorly for the Leafs. I think most Leaf fans would like to avoid a repeat of the recent (mis?)handling of Viktor Stalberg.

    I'm sure people remember his very impressive preseason coming straight out of the NCAA (didn't he lead the NHL in preseason points or goals?) where he earned a roster spot and subsequently struggled as more experienced players hit 'regular season' mode. Ultimately he was sent down, undoubtedly with confidence and developmental momentum (if such a thing exists) lost.

    I firmly believe the NCAA->NHL transition is quite different from the CHL->NHL transition, particularly with players who've gotten used to the roughly 40 game season of the NCAA over 2 or more seasons

  8. It's my opinion that a coach MUST reward players that play well. It's the most important motivational tool a coach has.

    Gardiner was the best D-man during most of the pre-season, so I think he has to get the start on the roster for at least a longer look during regular NHL play.

  9. Haha, alright Jake time to prove me wrong. I'll restructure my hopes to Gardiner being restricted to sheltered 5v5 and PP time and that he's kept <20m/night.