|Depth Chart Location:||Top 4 LD|
|Contract Status:||- Three more seasons at $4.05 million AAV
- Becomes UFA on July 1, 2019
Jake Gardiner, a 17th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has experienced an eventful beginning to his professional hockey career. A product of the University of Wisconsin, Gardiner was the key asset in the deal that brought him to Toronto alongside Joffrey Lupul in 2011. In addition to being traded as a prospect, Gardiner experienced a setback in his development due to a concussion sustained during his second full season in the league (2012-13). Fortunately, Gardiner has proven himself resilient by fully recovering from this injury and only missing eight regular season games in the past three years.
Gardiner’s development in Toronto has generally been quite positive despite playing on poor Leaf teams and for four different head coaches over five seasons. An agile skater who is unpredictable and elusive with the puck, Gardiner has grown into a mobile top-four blueliner capable of driving possession at the rate of a top-two defenceman.
Fast forward to 2015-16, Gardiner didn’t take a significant leap forward offensively, but he tied his career high in points with 31 – good for 45th in the NHL in points by regular defencemen. Transitioning to Babcock’s system last year led to more involvement in the offensive zone, as he saw an increase in 5-on-5 scoring chances for per sixty minutes (SCF60) and expected goals for per sixty minutes (xGF60).
Gardiner did experience a decrease in relative possession from his 2014-15 season; however, this seems to be more attributable to the stronger possession numbers of his peers under Babcock’s system, particularly in the second half of the season (such as Martin Marincin, Morgan Rielly and Frank Corrado), rather than an actual stumble in his individual performance.
Gardiner’s talent is undeniable, but what makes him even more valuable to the Leafs is the contract that he’s signed to. Currently entering the third year of a five-year deal with an AAV of $4,050,000, Gardiner’s reasonable price tag is a luxury in a salary cap era where every dollar counts.
As one of the Leafs’ top two defencemen entering the season, Gardiner is expected to positively influence the play of his teammates, and it’s a safe bet that Gardiner, based on his track record of 5-on-5 with-or-without-you (WOWY) results, will deliver in this area.
Two areas Gardiner can improve this season include opposition scoring chance prevention and on-ice decision-making. Gardiner’s 5-on-5 scoring chance for percentage (SCF%) last year decreased from his 2014-15 season primarily because of a spike in scoring chances against. While Gardiner effectively created scoring chances for Toronto, he experienced difficulty in preventing scoring chances by the opposition. In addition, many Leafs fans are both familiar with and wary of Gardiner’s occasional defensive zone blunders. Looking forward to the 2016-17 season, Gardiner needs to cut down on the amount of high-danger shot attempts he gives up, and limit avoidable mental mistakes in his own end.
While he’s now past the 300-game benchmark – considered the general rule of thumb for when a defenceman “is what he is” – there has always been a sense that there could be more to give offensively with Gardiner. He tied his career high in points last season despite factors such as a below-career average shooting percentage and playing on a low-scoring Leafs team working against him. Gardiner will be playing significant minutes on a team that will welcome an infusion of high-end young offensive talent for him to pass to and feed off of. Whether that proves to be the catalyst for breaking through the apparent 30-point “plateau” Gardiner has been on offensively since his great rookie season remains to be seen.
A full season without Dion Phaneuf – who averaged 3:02 per game on the man advantage while in Toronto last season – will also open up some opportunity for others on the blueline of the Leaf power play. The need for a potent point shot weapon on the PP could be a void filled by Nikita Zaitsev’s big right-handed shot, but there may also be a few more minutes to go around for the likes of Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, depending on how the units shake out. Gardiner’s point shot has shown potential at times but it’s never been a consistent threat – he has just one power play goal over his last two seasons, and, as Anthony Petrielli pointed out in his breakdown of the Leafs’ power play, Gardiner generated just 21 shots in nearly 184 powerplay minutes last season. A positive for Gardiner in this area is that his 11 powerplay assists in 2015-16 were a career high.
Last season, Gardiner played primarily Dion Phaneuf at 5v5 under second pairing usage, to good results, before sharing the ice with Frank Corrado, Roman Polak and Connor Carrick at different times down the stretch following the trade. He rarely shared the ice with Morgan Rielly, despite owning a 60% share of shot attempts in their small 5v5 sample size together, as Mike Babcock felt Gardiner deferred to Rielly too much and believed both Rielly and Gardiner were better off paired next to a veteran (Hunwick and Phaneuf, respectively, for the most part). That dynamic may change this season, as Gardiner could find himself next to Zaitsev to start the season, although there is much to sort out at camp.
Overall, Gardiner enters the 2016-17 season with high expectations. Now 26 years old, Gardiner is in the prime of his career and he is one of the longest-tenured members of the organization. Aside from re-signing Roman Polak and bringing in Zaitsev from the KHL, the Leafs made few significant changes to their defensive core this offseason. For the young Leafs to surprise, they’re going to need a big season from a matured Jake Gardiner in his second season under Mike Babcock.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected 2016-17 Depth Chart
This chart will update as we slot each player on the depth chart following the publishing of each player preview.
|J. van Riemsdyk||1C||Leo Komarov|
Jake Gardiner Career Boxcar Statistics
Jake Gardiner Career Enhanced Statistics