The Toronto Maple Leafs finished up re-signing their main restricted free agents by signing defenseman Jake Gardiner. Now, we were all expecting that a deal would get done eventually, but it’s length of the deal is surprising. I’d venture to say that not one person didn’t think that he would get a bridge contract before he signed long-term. We were proven wrong by the Leafs as they signed him for five years.
Although it’s surprising, this is a great move by the Leafs. If Jake Gardiner reaches his potential in the next couple of years, then they’ll have a bargain. If he doesn’t improve, it’s not impossible to trade him as he does not have any no-trade clause in the deal. However, that it is unlikely.
While their have been hiccups in Gardiner’s game in his first few years, he still has the potential to be one of the Leafs’ best defensemen. The additions of Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak should also make a difference. No matter who he plays with, Gardiner should be able to play his game better knowing he has a more defensively responsible partner backing him up.
Along with Morgan Rielly, Gardiner is one of the two Leafs building blocks on the blue line. The Leafs also have prospects Petter Granberg, Matt Finn, Tom Nilsson and Stu Percy who could form a pretty good blue line in the future. Gardiner would be the elder statesman of that group and he is only 24 years-old.
That’s the other great thing about this deal. As he is 24 right now, when the deal ends in 2019, he’ll only be 29. These five years should be the prime of his career. Even after this deal, he’ll still have a number of years of good hockey left in him.
The only question now is: what do the Leafs do with their salary cap situation? With the just over $4-million Gardiner will be paid, the Leafs are slightly over the salary cap. The Leafs could simply send a few players down to the Toronto Marlies to get back under the cap but as I wrote yesterday, I think the Leafs could be in line to make a trade. Just don’t think that Gardiner will be involved.
The Leafs have now locked up another piece of their core long-term. That can only be viewed as a good move.