Why a Jake Gardiner trade is inevitable for Maple Leafs

SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 30: Morgan Rielly
SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 30: Morgan Rielly /

At this point, the Toronto Maple Leafs trading away defenseman Jake Gardiner feels nothing but inevitable.

A lot of the talk around the Toronto Maple Leafs is good right now, thanks to their stellar offseason moves. The one negative thing people have focused on is their defense. There are simply too many questions surrounding the Maple Leafs’ blueline right now.

This has led to many rumors and speculation about the Leafs picking up a defenseman before the season starts. Justin Faulk and even Colton Parayko have been mentioned. However, there is a current Leafs defenseman who will be traded eventually, and his name is Jake Gardiner.

Gardiner has dealt with a lot during his tenure with the Leafs. Ever since being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks, it has been an on-and-off relationship with Leafs Nation. From the “Free Gardiner” era of 2013 to every time the fans demanded he be traded, it’s never been boring when it concerns the 28-year-old.

While his offense has been improving with every season, there have been simply too many defensive lapses to forget about them. Too many mistakes at times when the Leafs could ill afford a mistake.

When people think about the Maple Leafs’ free agents next season, the conversation usually turns to Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. While those two will be restricted free agents, Gardiner is heading toward unrestricted free agency. With all the money the Leafs are going to have tied up in Matthews, Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander, it’s hard to believe Toronto will have enough money to re-sign Gardiner.

It’s not like the Leafs don’t have replacements for that type of defenseman. In what seems like every draft for the past couple years, the Leafs have added an offensive defenseman who needs to improve his defense. Travis Dermott and Timothy Liljegren are on the top of that list right now. Dermott should make the team this season after playing 37 games last season. Liljegren could use another year with the Marlies but could see a call-up this year, just as Dermott did.

The only question surrounding a Gardiner trade is when it will happen. It’s doubtful he will be dealt before the season unless he is part of a package to acquire another defenseman.  It’s more likely he get’s dealt closer to the deadline or even after the season. The Leafs might have let James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov walk for nothing, but it shouldn’t happen with Gardiner.

While they do have replacements in line to take Gardiner’s spot in the lineup, it’s more of an aspect of asset control. Teams are always going to be looking for defensemen so the Leafs should get an asset or two in return. Could it weaken them in the short term? Maybe, but it should work out in the long run.

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This is Gardiner’s final season in a Leafs uniform. It’s just a how the Maple Leafs reach that inevitable conclusion.