For the month of August, Editor In Leaf will take a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs roster, previewing what could happen in the 2014-15 NHL season. Next up is smooth-skating defenseman Jake Gardiner.
Years With Leafs: Three
There isn’t anything more I could add about Jake Gardiner that hasn’t already been said numerous times. He’s the Toronto Maple Leafs’ best possession player. He owns exceptional skating ability and makes a fantastic first pass. These abilities make him a natural fit as a power-play quarterback.
Critics might point to Gardiner’s comparably favourable zone starts and quality of competition numbers. I would say, as an offensive defenseman, it makes sense for Gardiner to receive a high number of offensive zone starts so he gets more of an opportunity to make an impact on that end of the ice. At 43 per cent offensive zone starts, Gardiner was still starting more shifts in the defensive end, which shows just how often the Leafs were penned in their own end last season.
As for QoC, when looking at an entire season’s of data, there isn’t much difference between the players facing the toughest competition and those facing the lowest. Cam Charron goes into greater detail as to why that’s the case in a post for The LeafsNation. Simply put, Gardiner is the Leafs’ best possession defenseman by far, and quality of competition doesn’t make up for that difference when comparing him to Dion Phaneuf.
Big Question: Who will play with Gardiner next season?
Cody Franson was Gardiner’s most common linemate last season. If you take a look at the last three seasons, Gardiner’s Corsi For percentage with Franson is 49 per cent in over 869 minutes of ice time. That’s a very high CF% for a Leafs’ defensive pairing over multiple seasons.
Another option is Morgan Rielly. Gardiner and Rielly combined for a 54.6 per cent Corsi in 244 minutes together. Both players are elite skaters, so that will be a pairing to watch in the future. They should at least get significant power-play time together.
The third option, in my eyes, is captain Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf has struggled mightily in the possession department while facing extremely tough zone starts, so having a smooth skater like Gardiner on his side could ease the pressure he faces every night.