Toronto Maple Leafs: A Review of the Play of Jake Gardiner

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Jake Gardiner
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Jake Gardiner /

Jake Gardiner is a polarizing figure for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Few players symbolize the discord between people who use stats to measure the game of hockey and people who could not possibly care less about stats.  I can’t understand why someone would  refuse to even try to understand why measuring is better than guessing, but I don’t claim to understand much anyways.  The bottom line is this:  If you refuse to buy into the stats-mania that has swept through and revolutionized everything about professional sports over the last decade, you most likely think Jake Gardiner is a terrible player.

And that is fine.  I understand why it’s annoying – some people just want to have fun, watch the games and feel how they feel.  I do feel, however, that if you are going to enter a public discourse with your opinion, you should have some form of measurement to back it up other than ad hominem attacks and gross generalizations, but that’s just me.

Which brings me to Jake Gardiner.

If the Leafs allow a goal against and there isn’t some smartass on twitter to blame Jake Gardiner, did it even happen? Does the goal even count?  I mean, just looking at twitter some nights, you wouldn’t know it was a team game.  I once met a door to door water heater salesman who was more credible than most Jake Gardiner criticism.  So let’s look into some numbers and see what we can find out.

Jake Gadriner

Jake Gardiner is second in the NHL in 5v5 points by a defenseman. He is one point behind leader John Klingberg.  Gardiner is ranked 16th in total points by a defenseman, but 1) 5v5 are a better indicator of a player’s worth because most PP points would be scored by someone else anyways and 2) he’s 52nd in the NHL in average power-play time for a defenseman.

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If the Leafs used Gardiner like other teams use their top offensive defenseman, he could very easily and realistically be close to Klingberg’s 56 points and on pace for a 65 point season.

But while the offense is nice, Gardiner most helps his team with his defense.  This seems counter intuitive because he gives the puck away sometimes (and we’ve been conditioned to notice, so there’s a very high percentage chance that Gardiner owes his entire reputation to confirmation bias).  But it’s true. He’s one of the best skaters in the NHL and, over time, his ability to skate or pass the puck out of trouble and keep it going in the right direction far outweighs any errors his creative style may lead to.

For the season, Gardiner is just a hair under 50% CF, but his main partner has been Nikita Zaitsev and Zaitsev’s possession stats crater to 39% when not on the ice with Gardiner, which suggests highly that Zaitsev is a significant drag on Gardiner.

Other than Carrick, Gardiner is the Leafs best player in terms of shots/against per 60.  He leads the Leafs in expected-goals differential,  5v5 points, and ice time.


Morgan Rielly may have surpassed Gardiner this season as the Leafs best defenseman, but he is still an incredible talent and one of the NHL’s best defenseman.  I’m not saying he’s top ten or anything, but he’s a first pairing defenseman, for sure.  Gardiner is also easily one of the NHL’s most underrated players (possibly in its history).

I don’t think he should win the Norris, or even be a finalist.  But his play this year, and the fact that he has a legitimate shot at leading the NHL’s defenseman in 5v5 scoring, means that he should get some votes.  At the very least, he deserves an apology from Leafs Nation for the rough (almost always undeserved) treatment over the years.

Next: Do the Leafs Have a New Top Prospect?

Blink and you missed it happening, but by any form of reasonable analysis (both with numbers and longevity)  Jake Gardiner is one of the best defenseman to ever wear the blue and white.  He is, after-all, 12th in points and 14th in games played, all time.

Stats from Corsica.Hockey

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