Jake Gardiner Is an All-Time Great Toronto Maple Leafs Player

TORONTO, ON - March 31 In the second period, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) complains to referee for being called for cross-checking.The Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Winnipeg Jets at the Air Canada Centre in NHL hockey action.March 31, 2018 (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - March 31 In the second period, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) complains to referee for being called for cross-checking.The Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Winnipeg Jets at the Air Canada Centre in NHL hockey action.March 31, 2018 (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

Jake Gardiner isn’t just one of the Toronto Maple Leafs best players, and he isn’t just one of the best defenseman in the NHL –

He is one of the best Toronto Maple Leafs of all time.  Now, there are some fans who don’t like him, and that’s fine – some people legitimately think the earth is flat too.  You can’t please everyone and I’ve learned the hard way you can’t convince people who have their mind made up when the internet always has another ten thousand people ready to confirm anything anyone believes.

But Jake Gardiner plays the most 5v5 minutes on what is quite clearly the best team in the NHL.  He is doing it while on a 40 point pace.

Gardiner might not get the love he deserves, but since his acquisition in 2011 and his mutation into one of the most polarizing players of all-time, he has became one of the best defenseman in the history of Toronto Maple Leafs.

A Misunderstood Genius

Jake Gardiner had the misfortune to come to the Leafs when they were just about to blow a tire on their high expectations.  He stayed through a complete gut and rebuild, and now patrols the blueline for the Cup Favorites, but it’s the early years that defined his (unjust) reputation.

As one of the best skaters in the NHL, Gardiner has always been able to make use of his wheels to play a high-risk game.  SInce the team was terrible, and since he was just breaking in, he made many errors that did not go unnoticed.

But a funny thing happened: he grew into an elite player. (Only 16 defenseman had 50 points last year, few of them with the 5v5 point totals or the defensive impacts of Gardiner, so if you don’t think he’s elite, you are wrong because evidence has and will always trump a random opinion).

Confirmation Bias: the process where people notice and remember information that confirms what they already think. 

Confirmation Bias is the only reason Jake Gardiner is known as ‘bad defensively.’  His statistics certainly don’t paint this picture.  But if you think something is true,  you remember it when it happens.

If you watched Erik Karlsson ever night with the idea that he hurts the team defensively, you’d think the same thing. Brett Burns, PK Subban, Morgan Rielly etc.  If you have an idea in your head that someone is bound to screw up, you will notice when they will.

Add in this confirmation bias to the following facts and you get a pretty good idea of how Jake Gardiner got his reputation a) every 20 minute defenseman has the puck so much that they lose it a lot b) Gardiner plays with a level of icey cool that makes his giveaways, when they happen, look almost casual c) he’s so good that he takes risks and they don’t always pan out.

‘OK Tanner, but what’s to say that you’re not the one with confirmation bias?’

Hey, that’s a good question.

Jake Gardiner Statistical Breakdown

It’s not too difficult a proposition: I see something and you see something different. Let’s just go to the evidence.

Last year, Gardiner (out of Leafs D who played 40+ games) allowed the least amount of shots and goals per minute.

If you look at the 5v5 stats for Jake Gardiner for all 511 games he’s played as a Toronto Maple Leafs, you get a player with possession rating just below 50% and a +23 goal differential.

That might not sound that great without context, so here’s your context: of the eight seasons he’s played, the Leafs have been among the worst teams in the NHL for five of them, and those numbers include his formative years.  It’s very, very hard to be a young defenseman playing lots of minutes on a bad team and still put up good numbers.

If we just look at the last four years (three full seasons and this one to date), Gardiner is a 51% player who is +30 goal differential, and the Leafs get 54% of the total goals scored when he’s on the ice.

In the last four seasons, all of which the Leafs allowed among the most shots-against in the NHL, including one where the Leafs finished last overall, Jake Gardiner has played 265 games.

In those 265 games, when Gardiner has been on the ice, the Leafs have gotten 51% of the shot-attempts, 50% of the shots and 54% of the goals.

That is irrefutable proof of his abilities.  Over the same period of time, PK Subban (a Norris Trophy and a nomination) was worth three extra goals to his team.  Drew Doughty was worth six more.  Kris Letang was worth 42 less goals. (based on goal differential, 5v5). 

If you said to someone ‘Jake Gardiner is better than Kris Letang’ they might think you’re crazy and call you the sorts of names they call me in the comments section, but at 5v5 over the course of three and a quarter seasons, Jake Gardiner was a +30 and Letang was a -12.  We’re talking an almost 300 games sample.

The point? Jake Gardiner helped his team as much or more over the last four seasons than three guys almost certainly going to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Again: only 16 defenseman has 50 points last year. Jake Gardiner was one of them.  He was fourth in the NHL in 5v5 defenseman scoring. He led his team by allowing the lowest shots and goals against. This year, he is playing the most and the toughest minutes on the NHL’s best team.

The evidence is rock solid.  Jake Gardiner is among the best defenseman in the NHL.

All Time Toronto Maple Leafs

Jake Gardiner is the 60th highest scoring player in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. 43 goals, 182 assists and 225 points. He will most likely move into the top 50 this year.

He is the longest serving current Leaf, having played in 511 games (one more than Kadri).  That is the 36th most in franchise history.  If he plays in the rest of this year’s games, Gardiner will be ranked 26th overall in franchise games played.  He is 12th in games played among defenseman and he’ll be ranked 10th at the end of the seasons (assuming he remains healthy).

Gardiner is 15th all time in defenseman goals, 10th in assists and 10th in points. The best leafs defenseman of all-time are Borje Salming, Tim horton, Tomas Kaberle and Ian Turnbull.

Jake Gardiner could arguably be the fifth best defenseman in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with room to move up.

Next. Acceptable Nylander Trade Options. dark

Fat chance that he ever gets that recognition, but I hope at least a couple people at least view him in a better light after reading this.  He is without a doubt one of the best defenseman in the current NHL and easily the most underrated player.  Maybe ever.

stats from corsica.hockey

stats from hockeydb.com 

stats from naturalstattrick.com 

stats from quanthockey.com