Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Anthony Petrielli joined Sportsnet Today with George Rusic to discuss a number of Leafs topics at the 2018 All-Star break: his biggest surprise and his biggest disappointment of the season so far, Jake Gardiner’s recent play in the absence of Morgan Rielly, and much more.

On Jake Gardiner’s recent play:

Not related to Rielly: I haven’t run the full numbers on it yet, but he’s almost always been better in the second half of seasons than the first half. I kind of mentioned it a few weeks ago — is he going to do this thing again where he doesn’t look good for the first half and everyone gets on him, and in the second half, he’s lights-out? He’s kind of there right now.

The other thing is they’ve decided to basically throw all the ice time his way because they have so many kids on defense right now. Sometimes that helps you. You just have less time to sit on the bench and think about all the mistakes you’ve made. You just kind of go out there and play.

This is a good development for the Leafs. If they’re going to get this Gardiner the rest of the way, and then Rielly is going to come back and play the way he’s been playing, and Zaitsev is going to return… it suddenly might be a reasonable defense.

On whether Roman Polak should sit so Travis Dermott can remain in the lineup when Nikita Zaitsev returns:

I think, at the end of the day, we’re going to see [Polak and Dermott] paired together. They’ll just have the top four what they were with Gardiner and Zaitsev and Rielly Hainsey, who have been a real good pairing. I think they’ll just end up pairing Dermott with Polak. Babcock has kind of referred to Dermott being in this pool with Carrick and Borgman, and at this point, it’s very clear he is ahead of those two. It’s not a knock on the other two kids — I think they’ve done some good things in their own right. I think we’ll see Dermott end up with Polak at the end of the day. I don’t see them taking out Polak when it comes down to crunch time.

There was a final play against Chicago in the final minute or so where he got the puck at the point — Polak — and he took a nice point shot that almost ended up creating a rebound for a goal, and then the play went down the ice and he made a really tough play on a guy driving the net, and then helped break the puck out. That’s the kind of stuff they see where they just like him as as vet. I think they’ll end up pairing them together at the end of the day.

On whether the Leafs will look to add a depth piece on the blue line at the deadline:

I think that was their plan originally and I think they’ll look at the prices and see if there is anything out there. But they’re missing two of their top four right now and they’ve been able to kind of cobble together a defense. We mentioned they didn’t look that great against Chicago — I think the defense was a big reason why. They just couldn’t transition up the ice properly against that team. Eventually, Zaitsev and Rielly are going to return — hopefully sooner than later — and then you’re going to have two of those kids on the outside looking in. That might give them a little bit of pause, whereas before I think they were definitely, “We’re going to get a defenseman.” Now they might feel that they have a little bit of depth where they don’t need to, but I still think they might try to get a vet at a low cost.

Listen to the audio above for more on Curtis McElhinney, the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment of the 2017-18 season so far, and much more.