You could make a strong argument that Jake Gardiner is the most important piece to the Toronto Maple Leafs future, and someone who they can ill afford to lose long-term. That’s why when he took that thunderous hit behind the net on Saturday night against the Rochester Americans, that loud gasp you probably heard were Leaf fans everywhere holding their collective breath.
Gardiner was able to continue briefly on the power play and even scored his second goal of the game before being forced to leave. That was the second straight contest where he has scored twice and was really starting to find a groove with the Marlies, as he now sits fourth in team scoring.
The Marlies did the smart thing by holding him out of Sunday’s game against the Abbotsford Heat with the dreaded “upper-body injury”, which everyone knows is an obvious head injury and probably a concussion. It’s like the team thinks if they don’t use the word “concussion” then fans and media won’t start asking any questions. I know the injury was suffered less than 48 hours ago, but hey, it is Toronto and it’s never too early to overreact and panic absurdly.
Surely the Marlies will want Gardiner back in the lineup as soon as possible because he is a huge part of their team. However, it doesn’t need to be said that they have to be extra cautious when it comes to his health. The last thing the organization needs is for Gardiner to be rushed back and have a setback. I’m sure we can all remember the struggles NHL players like Sidney Crosby have dealt with recently when they weren’t fully healed. Especially with the NHL in a lockout, what better time to make sure Gardiner is 100 percent before he returns to the ice. With all the players fighting for ice-time down on the Marlies, some younger players can surely benefit in Gardiner’s absence with some increased minutes.
Concussions have become one of the most talked about issues in sports in recent years. Probably because of their unpredictable nature. Sometimes a player can return to action quickly without an issue, but others can take much longer to be symptom free. It is anything but an exact science.
Hopefully this injury is not serious and Gardiner can return to the ice sooner rather than later. After coming so close last year to a Calder Cup, the goal of the Marlies is undoubtedly to close the deal in 2012-13. With Gardiner in the lineup they are surely a championship contender, but believe it or not sometimes there are more important things than short-term success. Like the potential future face of the franchise.