Toronto Maple Leafs May Deal Gardiner


Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

On TSN Radio this morning Darren Dreger said that rival NHL GM’s have told him that Jake Gardiner is available.

The same Jake Gardiner who is a 23-year-old defender who was the best defencemen the Leafs had when they played the Bruins in the playoffs last year. The same Gardiner who until last night hadn’t played less than 21 minutes a game for over a month. In that time he went over 25 minutes five separate times. That Jake Gardiner.

In other words, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis is willing to trade a stud defencemen for a top six forward at least partially because the current head coach doesn’t like his style of play. I’ve already written about why Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle needs to be fired here but maybe it’s time to consider the removal of Nonis himself.

Nonis has been with the Leafs since Dec. 4, 2008 when he signed on as senior vice-president and director of hockey operations and served as Brian Burke’s assistant general manager. He’s been the GM since Burke was let go on January 9, 2013.

So what moves has he made since then that set him up as being a great NHL general manager?

Nonis had a busy January after becoming the new GM. Just seven days after he took over he traded Matthew Lombardi to the Phoenix Coyotes for a conditional draft pick in the 2014 draft. The conditions weren’t met, so it remained a fourth round pick.

He also quickly sent Tim Connolly to the minors, where he remained all season. Connolly had been a bad signing who was playing out the rest of his contract. Removing any potential distraction was a good move.

Joffrey Lupul was then signed to a five-year extension. While Lupul is injury prone the money isn’t far off from what other teams would offer. Nonis obviously viewed Lupul as a core piece of the Leafs future and locked him up.

January also saw the yo-yo that was Jake Gardiner. Demoted to the Marlies on the 25th to be recalled on the 27th to be demoted on the 30th. The mishandling of Gardiner so that the Leafs could stick with players like Korbinian Holzer or Mike Kostka and Mark Fraser is the epitome of short sighted. How short sighted? Kostka has played all of four NHL games this season with the Blackhawks while Holzer is nailed firmly to the Marlies. Fraser is an AHL defencemen still getting time with the Leafs. This is the first major warning sign of Nonis tenure.

He ended January with the signing of Frazer McLaren off of waivers. McLaren was brought in when Colton Orr was hurt because both Nonis and Carlyle feel they need to have a face puncher on the roster. The problem is now the Leafs are stuck with two face punchers because they refuse to demote either of them.

Speaking of fighters, the only decent one the Leafs had was Mike Brown, so Nonis promptly traded him to the Edmonton Oilers for a fourth round pick.

After a quiet February, Nonis began making moves again in March. He signed Josh Leivo and a day later signed Holzer to a two year contract extension. A minor trade with the Capitals for defencemen Kevin Marshall was followed by trading David Steckel to the Ducks for Ryan Lasch and a seventh round pick in 2014.

On trade deadline day Nonis made only one move, acquiring Ryan O’Byrne for a fourth round pick in 2014.  O’Byrne played only eight games for the Maple Leafs. Feel free to explain how that’s worth any pick.

After the catastrophic game seven loss to the Bruins, Nonis got back to work. He re-signed Colton Orr before trading Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens and a second round pick in either 2014 or 2015 to the Kings for Jonathan Bernier. He also retained $500,000 in salary, hurting the Leafs cap situation. He wasn’t done there though, as he traded three picks for Dave Bolland. Bolland started the season well before an unfortunate injury during game 15.  Bolland’s career high in points, which was years ago, is 47. He cost the 2013 seconds and fourth as well as the 2014 fourth rounders.

He used his compliance buyouts on Mikhail Grabovski and Mike Komisarek. Komisarek had one year left at a cap hit of $4.5-million. John Michael-Liles who is often buried in the AHL makes $3.875-million for the next three years. Apparently saving $4.5-million short term is more important than $11.625-million long term.

Grabovski meanwhile has 27 points in 32 games. Under Carlyle he was nailed to the third and sometimes fourth lines, scoring only 16 points in 48 games. For the record Grabovski would be second in Leafs scoring with that line in Toronto.

Nonis also allowed Clarke MacArthur to walk. MacArthur signed for the exact same $3.25-million in Ottawa and has 25 points in 34 games. That would have him tied for third in Leafs scoring.

Nonis replaced that scoring by re-signing Bozak and picking up David Clarkson.

Bozak, with a career high 47 points while playing with one of the best scorers in the game, has 11 points this year.

Clarkson, who had been making $2.6-million was signed for seven years at $5.25-million per. He’s got six points in 24 games.

Nonis also then signed Jonathan Bernier to a new deal. Bernier has been given every chance to beat out James Reimer for the starting job and has faltered. In fact statistically Reimer is the better goaltender.

He re-signed Mark Fraser and brought in Paul Ranger. Ranger was a low priced gamble that failed while Fraser has shown himself to be an AHL quality defencemen.

In September Nonis re-signed Nazem Kadri and brought in Mason Raymond for next to nothing. Raymond is having a career year thus far. That gives Nonis a 50 per cent split on cheap deals, which is pretty good.

He then traded away the only centre depth the Leafs had in late September. Joe Colborne only fetched a fourth round pick. This trade looks awful after the Bolland and Bozak injuries left the Leafs with nobody to play centre.

He had to call up Jerred Smithson and trade for Peter Holland. Holland has been perhaps the most misused Leaf of the year. If Holland plays 25 games this season the third round pick becomes a second round pick. Holland is already at 14. His playing time changes dramatically from game to game though. He’s played as low as three minutes and as high as 19. Holland looks to be a solid piece for the future but once again the Leafs are failing to develop him properly. You don’t give up a second round pick for a guy who’s going to play less than 10 minutes a game.

Nonis also re-signed Phil Kessel which was a move he basically had to do. Kessel is too good a scorer and if paired with a legitimate first line centre could be a juggernaut.

In this coming draft the Leafs are down a fourth round pick. They have to give up a second round pick either this season or next season and if Holland plays 25 games, which looks like a lock to happen, they have to give up this year’s second round pick. They also have Calgary’s fourth round pick. All that means is that there’s a very good chance that Dave Nonis has given away three second round picks in a row for Peter Holland, Jonathan Bernier and Dave Bolland, who isn’t yet signed past this season.

Looking at all that, Nonis has made poor moves in trade (O’Byrne, Colborne), poor buyout decisions (Grabovski and Komisarek over Liles and/or Komisarek) and terrible contract decisions (Bozak, Clarkson, not signing MacArthur).

What exactly has Dave Nonis done to earn our trust that he’ll get fair value for Jake Gardiner, someone who could be a superstar in this league and along with Morgan Rielly be the core for years and years to come?

Despite the fan bases lack of faith in Nonis, don’t forget that MLSE signed Nonis to a five year contract extension this summer, despite the fact that he had three years left on his deal.