Morning Mashup: Gardiner forcing tough decision

Morning Mashup: Gardiner forcing tough decision

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Photo: ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI Agency

Four games into the primers, few would argue the standout performances of the preseason have belonged to a pair of youngsters in Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner. While Kadri appears to have the left wing third line spot locked up for October 6 against the Canadiens (not to be dismissive of a solid preseason showing from Matt Frattin), Gardiner’s situation is far more obfuscated for reasons beyond his control.

Gardiner has shown immense promise in three appearances thus far; even though it’s “just” preseason, his displays of outlet architecture, high hockey IQ (particularly of when to join the rush), great speed and poise have left few doubting the Leafs have the makings of a premiere puckmoving defenceman in the 21-year-old U. of Wisconsin product. And if Burke’s mantra is true about a good team needing ten defencemen throughout the course of a season, we have far from seen the last of him in 2011-12. It’s nothing to hang his head about, but numbers, age, experience, and most important of all waiver status will likely see Gardiner start the season with the Marlies.

The plethora of blueline depth means there is expendability, and Burke will likely look to leverage his excess of assets on the backend in any trade negotiations surrounding a number one centre of the future. The reality is that this type of deal will not formulate overnight, however, nor this season necessarily. So unless Burke can find a taker for Komisarek stat, Wilson will be having a chat with Gardiner offering a ton of kind words before breaking the bad news to him as a business decision; much like he had to do with James Reimer last January, who (albeit briefly) returned to the Marlies despite a more than stellar stint of debut performances.

Waiver distinctions would have put Gardiner in competition with Keith Aulie for a spot in the presumed top seven the Leafs will carry into the regular season. However, with the more offensive-minded Cody Franson and John Michael Liles starting the season with the Leafs, it would seem the need for Aulie on the defensive side of the puck, and the penalty kill, make it a bit of a mismatch of a competition. The Aulie-Phaneuf pairing appears here to stay, or at least here to start the regular season.

Ultimately, this is still a 21-year-old defenceman who, before 2011 preseason, had played only ten games at the professional level, when he closed out the 2010-11 season with the Marlies. The message to Gardiner will be to log big minutes while showing he’s above AHL competition. If he does just that, Burke and co. will have a [good] problem on their hands and the onus will be on the GM to make available the space.

LEAFS LINKS:

Mislav’s recap of last night’s 2-1 loss to the Ryan Millers.

Phaneuf’s “controversial” hit last night on Michael Ryan. Millen calls the hit late, and apparently the referees agreed as they assessed an interference call, but I seriously beg to differ. You can’t even count to one after Ryan chips the puck out before Phaneuf has him on the ice. I don’t see an elbow up or any sort of targeting of the head. A defenceman used to get berated for NOT making this hit once upon a time. I hope this is merely early season oversensitivity towards a hot button issue.

J.P. Nikota has a recap and notes over at PPP.

Ron Wilson’s post-game presser.

Tim Connolly talks about a better performance from himself and his line.

John Michael Liles’ post-game interview.

James Reimer’s post-gamer after an Optimus Reim-type performance. I’m not worried.

Leafs’ rookie defenceman shines. The Sun’s Steve Buffery is also impressed by Gardiner.

A simulation of an HFBoards debate on the Spezza rumour from Puckin’ Eh.

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