Jake Gardiner Signs for 5 years, $20.25 million

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Photo: Getty Images via NHL.com

 The Maple Leafs and Jake Gardiner have shaken hands on a 5-year contract worth $4.05 million a season.

It’s a similar deal to that of Victor Hedman and Niklas Hjalmarsson, both of whom got around $4 million a season for the next five years coming off their ELCs. Roman Josi recently signed for four million per over 7 years. The Leafs have bought a year of Gardiner’s UFA eligibility, making him a UFA at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Gardiner posted 31 points in 80 games last season, good for 45th in the League among defencemen (and tied with Dion Phaneuf). It was shaping up to be a bit of a down year offensively for Gardiner — he wasn’t alone among the Leafs D, with Phaneuf and Gunnarsson’s shots and point totals well down from their norms, and Franson’s 5v5 production well down – as the Leafs even strength struggles seemed to be particularly crippling for their defencemen’s production levels. The Leafs started more shifts in the defensive zone than any other team last season to the point where Morgan Rielly’s 47% offensive zone starts were the “softest” among the group. The Leafs also couldn’t consistently cycle the puck effectively; that inability to work the puck low and kick it high to the point, in combination with the long spells of sustained own zone time, meant their volume of point shots generated was strikingly low for large chunks of last season.

That one aspect changed for the better somewhat when Carlyle and the staff seemed to give Rielly and Gardiner a bit of a greenlight down the stretch while encouraging more defensive involvement in the offense in general. 14 of Gardiner’s (45%) points came in the final 18 games of the regular season (just 23% of his total games last year). Individually, it’s perhaps not surprising Gardiner had a bit of a slow start given 2012-13 was something of a lost year for him; his injury down with the Marlies preceded struggles to find his form with the big club and he played just 12 games of NHL regular season action in the lockout-shortened year.

Gardiner’s obviously just scratching the surface in terms of what he could achieve offensively; it’s one thing talking about it and another getting there, but 45 pts should be no problem for a defenceman of his talent level in his prime. It’s up to Gardiner now to play his way into deserving this long-term commitment. His natural talents are obviously high end, he’s the Leafs’ best corsi player, he played over 21 minutes a night last season (2nd behind only Dion), but he’s like many other defencemen his age when it comes to finding season-long relative consistency at a tough position, especially in terms of his decision making and his one on one battles in the tough areas of the ice — Corsi numbers put aside, that stuff matters if Gardiner wants to take the next step.

What’s clear though is that Gardiner is a part of the solution to what ails this team in terms of possession. He’s a new-era defenceman. The persistent narrative about Morgan Rielly potentially making Gardiner expendable is nonsense; I think everyone can agree Gardiner can be a frustrating player, but there’s no such thing as a team having too many young, talented, mobile puck-movers/rushers in the modern game. So is the narrative about Carlyle hating this kid, somehow still out there despite the minutes he played last season.

Relevant (Dubas on what makes a good defenceman):

https://twitter.com/kyledubas/status/478908780969615361

With that, the Maple Leafs appear to have tied the finishing bow  on their off-season work, barring an unforeseen trade. This will be good value if Gardiner takes the next step he’s clearly capable of taking. He’s already producing at a reasonable rate with good underlying numbers, and it would be shocking if the best isn’t yet to come.

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]
  • RandomScrub

    Good contract to have Gardiner on. Quite happy with this signing.

  • Cloud09

    Yippie!!

  • mike_84

    can’t wait to see what this dcore looks like opening day

  • DCDC

    Great work and it really sets a precedent for Reilly next year for a similar contract!!

  • ReimNier

    One of the best deals the Leafs have made in years.  Sure, we have the obvious links in Kessel and Phaneuf, but signing Gardiner to that sweetheart deal is just ludicrous in how unexpected it was.  Gardiner is just too talented to not at least be a 40+ point defenseman.  That’s worth 4M IMO.

    Leafs management have done a fantastic job.  There’s no doubt about it.  They are deserving of applause for how they finally identified so many of the teams problematic depth issues and went ahead to resolve them bit by bit.  Season has to play out, but there’s no denying that the management team has been brilliant this off-season.

  • dlb Mad

    i’d have to go back to see what i said a few days ago, but i think it was along the lines of “if it’s 5 years and 4 million, sure…but i can’t see him taking that deal”
    haha.  doh
    i can live with this deal even though i was in favour of the short deal because i’m unsure of what Gardiner really is going to be still.  if he’s not amazing in 3 years, 4 million still won’t be a terrible overpayment…i don’t think.
    and if he shines, great deal.

  • Murph2417

    Really happy about this signing and this off-season in general. I am glad we addressed the depth and bottom 6 contribution problem. 
    I see this D core being (pending any trades that would effect this Ex: Franson)
    Gardiner – Phaneuf
    Rielly – Robidas
    Polak – Franson
    People were saying Polak has played left D a few times so it would be easier for him to switch over rather than Franson, Also Franson was solid when paired with a physical D man on the 3rd pairing (Fraser – Franson 2012-2013 season).

  • dlb Mad

    i’m not really in favour of having a GM tweet too much, but i have to say i’m a fan of Dubas now.
    why?  because one of my greatest issues with Gardiner was watching him continuously give up our blue line.  he wouldn’t get beat wide, which stands out more to people but i think it hurt us.
    Dubas’ #2.  i’m really happy to finally hear someone say that.  i don’t think he’s the only one who would see the importance in that, but it is the first time i’ve heard it from someone else.

  • Cloud09

    ReimNier Good to see you back, don’t know how many people can complain how this offseason has gone.

  • DWCMLHS

    Very good contract for the Leafs. Gardiner is already a 2nd-pairing Dman, imo. There’s also a chance he could become a 1st-pairing Dman at some point. Either way, I think he can be a 1st-unit PPQB, capable of 40+ points.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Great signing.  And no late summer holdouts this year – bonus

  • Murph2417

    dlb Mad That’s the thing about long term contracts being made this year and last year, since the cap is going to take huge jumps within the next 3-5 years, these long term deals are great value in the last couple years.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    https://twitter.com/kevin_mcgran https://twitter.com/kevin_mcgran/status/494271669234827265
    The only significant part of the Leaf puzzle without a contract is William Nylander. https://twitter.com/hashtag/Leafs?src=hash

  • mike_84

    Murph2417 i like this better then Dion switching sides. I think  a wild card could be MacWilliam and a surprise could be Percy. Camp should be interesting

  • Cameron19

    So any rumors out there in response to this deal?

  • Murph2417

    ingy56 Pending

  • mike_84

    Cameron19 only ones made up on here

  • mike_84

    ingy56 Back to modo

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Murph2417 ingy56 I wonder, if he goes back to Sweden he could slide for a year I believe.

  • Murph2417

    mike_84 Murph2417 Only thing about those kids coming in is Franson would likely be pushed to the bench, and sitting someone with a 3 mill salary for the sake of giving a kid some 3rd pairing minutes probably won’t go over well with the fans.

  • Cameron19

    mike_84 Cameron19 Ah, I see.

  • Burtonboy

    ingy56 Can he actually have an NHL contract and still play in the SEL?

  • mike_84

    Cameron19 mike_84 most dont see Franson on this team opening day

  • Cameron19

    Burtonboy ingy56 Yes.

  • Murph2417

    ingy56 Murph2417 Looking at our roster it’s either the Marlies or Sweden at this point, I see him as being way to good for the OHL

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Burtonboy ingy56 Not sure BB, I don’t think Johnson is signed either is he?

  • mike_84

    Murph2417 mike_84 unless Franson is ,moved for a pick/prospect

  • DWCMLHS

    ingy56 Give him a contract, and let him center the Marlies’ 1st line. We need to at least try to develop him as a center. He’s by far our best long-term 1C option.

  • Murph2417

    mike_84 Murph2417 Which is what I see happening before season start

  • mike_84

    DWCMLHS think he he will be 2nd unit PP as Reilly will be 1st unit.

  • Loric76

    Cameron19 Going to have to move Gardiner to cover the cap overage penalties

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Loric76 Cameron19 To BUFF for Gorges :)

  • mike_84

    Gose with a 2 run double. 3-1 Jays

  • Loric76

    ingy56 Loric76 Cameron19 lol

  • dlb Mad

    mike_84 
    remember someone coming on here the other day to laugh at the Jays?

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    dlb Mad mike_84 What, me worry?

  • Pent_House

    DWCMLHS ingy56 I doubt he could handle the physicality of the AHL to play 1st line and get all the match-ups. 

    Pretty much a guarantee McKegg is 1C.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    I cannot believe Dubas got this kid signed so fast…

  • Loric76

    TheCanucksnaphook I think Randy was the main negotiator

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    TheCanucksnaphook Next up, trade Clarkson.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    ingy56 TheCanucksnaphook What will I do with my jersey?

  • Loric76

    ingy56 TheCanucksnaphook thats too much smart for one offseason

  • Mattmark

    Great news to see the franchise and a player in whom it obviously has confidence commit to each other!

    While somewhat underwhelmed by our off-season acquisitions, I must admit I’m now looking forward to seeing our flying Finns and slick Swede (probably for at least nine games) take to the ice this fall.  Hope springs eternal!

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    TheCanucksnaphook ingy56 Hang it with your Luongo, Lindros, Stamkos….

  • DWCMLHS

    mike_84 DWCMLHS Maybe he will be. I think both will be good enough to play on the 1st unit. But yeah, only one will. One can set up Phaneuf for one-timers, the other can set up Finn (eventually) for one-timers.

  • mike_84

    What about someone like Smid to play  3rd pairing. Salary is too high but that can be worked around depending on the deal.

  • Cameron19

    mike_84 Would prefer someone more mobile, but I wouldn’t cry about Smid on that third pairing. Also willing to see Polak/Franson, if it’s true that Polak is good on his left side, too.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    ingy56 TheCanucksnaphook I am unsure what I should do with my Nylander one. School girls keep beating me up and taking my lunch money.

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/kevin_mcgran https://twitter.com/kevin_mcgran/status/494278385020198913
    “He had a great year last year. …He’s clearly still improving.” Nonis on Gardiner https://twitter.com/hashtag/Leafs?src=hash (1)

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    https://twitter.com/sunhornby https://twitter.com/sunhornby/status/494278642013188096
    Dave Nonis on J. Gardiner being worth 5-year, $20.25 million risk: “He took strides last year. We’re just scratching the surface with him.”