Toronto Maple Leafs: Position Change for Jake Gardiner?
With Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner wasting away in the press box for a second consecutive game, I got to wondering if he could be better utilized on the ice. More specifically, I wondered about moving the slick-skating defender to a wing position.
This might seem a little bit dramatic, and at this point in the season, probably a bit of an overreaction to the situation. But in all honesty, isn’t it at least worth exploring? I mean, the Leafs recently signed Gardiner to a five-year, $20.25 million contract. And now he is sitting in the press box?
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We’re not talking about Ricky Romero here. He didn’t lose his touch, or his confidence. He is playing the same way he has always played. Gardiner is an offensive defenceman, not a stay-at-home, defence-first kind of guy. Isn’t that why Roman Polak and Stephane Robidas were brought in? To allow guys like Gardiner and Morgan Rielly (shouldn’t be paired together) to take a few more chances, offensively, while they sit back and protect the back-end.
So, if Jake Gardiner is playing the way the Leafs knew he would, and has in the past, why the sudden admission to the doghouse of Randy Carlyle? It seems like the 24 year old’s talents are being wasted.
Well, what if he was moved to a forward position? He is strong enough to defend against other team’s forwards, so he must be big and strong enough to be a forward himself. And we know he has offensive talent and can skate exceptionally well. Why not give it a try, rather than letting him waste away in the press box?
Comparisons are easy. Of course, not all are going to be fair.
Mar 8, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Dustin Byfuglien is probably one of the best examples of a defender turned forward, playing the backend for Chicago before being moved to the wing. He is much bigger than Gardiner, but a case can be made that Gardiner is a better skater.
Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks is another good example of how a defenceman can be a successful forward. Burns was drafted by the Minnesota Wild as a defenceman, but soon converted to forward and has been highly successful. Last season, Burns had 22 goals for the Sharks.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans will also remember Gary Leeman. He was drafted in 1982 by the Maple Leafs, 24th overall, as one of the top defenceman in junior hockey. The Leafs converted him into a successful forward, part of the popular “Hound Line” with Wendel Clark and Russ Courtnall. In the 1989-1990 season, Leeman scored 51 goals, his fourth consecutive season with 20 or more goals.
Apr 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) goes to pass the puck against the Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Could Jake Gardiner help the Leafs at the offensive end, and possibly blossom into a solid scoring forward? We’ll never find out if he is sitting in the press box! His defensive experience should help him be a more responsible back-checker, and understanding how to play at both ends of the ice is always an asset. With all due respect, fringe players like players like Daniel Winnik, Brandon Kozun and Mike Santorelli, to name a few, could easily be bumped by a player like Gardiner.
Do the Leafs have enough defensive depth to fill the hole? Probably. They sent down Viktor Loov, after initially keeping on the roster out of camp, and he would be a natural choice to rejoin the team if Gardiner was to be moved to an offensive position. The Toronto Marlies have other possibilities, including Matt Finn, Tom Nilsson and Korbinian Holzer. Of course, trades are also a possibility, if things were to work out well.
What do you think? Is Gardiner wasting away in the press box a good thing, or should the Toronto Maple Leafs investigate what type of forward he might be?