Toronto Maple Leafs 2016-17 Season Review: Jake Gardiner

Apr 19, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) carries the puck against the Washington Capitals in game four of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Washington defeated Toronto 5-4. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 19, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) carries the puck against the Washington Capitals in game four of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. Washington defeated Toronto 5-4. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Jake Gardiner took a significant step forward this season and evolved into the Toronto Maple Leafs most consistent defenceman during the 2016-17 campaign.

Over the next few weeks we will be looking back at the Toronto Maple Leafs 2016-17 season and reviewing how each player performed this year. Our season in review will start with the defence, move to the goalies and finish with the forwards. First up in our season review is defenceman Jake Gardiner.

Remember just a couple of years ago when Jake Gardiner was one of the most criticized defencemen on the Toronto Maple Leafs and head coach Randy Carlyle wouldn’t trust him against anyone? Oh, how things have drastically changed since then.

This season Gardiner took a significant step forward and elevated his play to the level of a top pairing defenceman. Mike Babcock and his staff deserve a ton of credit for Gardiner’s improvement this season, but some would argue Gardiner didn’t necessarily improve this past season, he was just finally used properly and his stat line benefited immensely because of it. I think it was a combination of both factors, but there’s no denying how well Gardiner fits in Babcock’s system.

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Gardiner has been an “advanced stats darling,” specifically in regards to Corsi, for the majority of his career and this season he was once again a fantastic possession player who posted excellent shot share metrics while taking on the opposition’s top line on a nightly basis. While metrics like his 3.2 percent relative Corsi for at even strength and 43 total points are nice indicators of how well Gardiner played this past season, the most fascinating aspect of the 26 year old’s campaign was how Babcock’s trust in him continuously grew.

During the regular season Gardiner finished third among Leaf defencemen averaging 21:32 of ice time per game. However, his average ice time jumped to over 22 minutes a game during the team’s final 20 games of the regular season and Babcock was leaning on Gardiner when opposing team’s deployed their top line.

During the final six games of the regular season when the Leafs were trying to clinch a playoff spot, Gardiner saw an average of 23:02 a game, which was a team-high and easily surpassed Morgan Rielly‘s 21:28 per game. He registered five points (all assists) during this span and — perhaps most importantly — proved to Babcock he is someone who he can lean on during the postseason.

And lean on him he did. During the postseason Gardiner played a team-high 28:32 and finished with one goal, two assists and nine shots in six games. He was a workhorse throughout the Leafs first round series against the Washington Capitals, which was highlighted when he played 40:34 in Game 2, and he proved he can be a top-four player along the Leafs’ blue line.

Related Story: Examining the Leafs' right-handed defencemen problem

Overall, it was a season of constant growth for Gardiner and he finally showed Leaf fans what he is capable of. Yes, he still had the occasional terrible turnover or frisbee up the middle of the ice, but within Babcock’s system his propensity to take risks is merely a blemish, not an eye sore like it was in the past. With another year in the Leafs’ system under his belt, it will be fascinating to see where Gardiner’s game evolves to next season. Based on everything we saw at the end of this past season, I think we’re just beginning to see how good Gardiner can be.

Season statistics

standard NHL career statistics
ScoringGoalsAssistsShotsIce Time

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2017.

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3 things to know about Gardiner’s 2016-17 season

Statistically speaking, Gardiner put together a monster campaign and he led all Leafs defencemen in goals (9), assists (34), points (43) and plus/minus (+24). His 43 points were a career-high, too.

Gardiner’s most common matchup during the postseason was against the Caps’ potent top line of

Nicklas Backstrom


Alex Ovechkin


T.J. Oshie

. Above I mentioned a lot how Gardiner earned Babcock’s trust this season and was leaned on down the stretch. This was on full display during round one and was another example of just how much trust and confidence Babcock has in Gardiner, which wasn’t the case during the first half of the regular season when Rielly was consistently facing the tougher matchups.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs /

Toronto Maple Leafs

In comparison to previous years, some of Gardiner’s advanced metrics (like his Corsi per 60 minutes in all situations) actually decreased this season. But for the most part, his advanced statistics were either around his career average, like his 4.4 shots per 60 minutes, or slightly up, like his 103.8 PDO. The main takeaway from all his advanced stats, though, is he generated offence for the Leafs through his possession oriented game and you could make a good case as to why he was a top 25 defenceman in the NHL this past season.

2017-18 Season outlook

After a terrific 2016-17 campaign, Gardiner has solidified himself as a top-four — perhaps even top pairing — defenceman in Toronto and I fully expect to see him play at a high level next season.

How Babcock decides to use Gardiner and Rielly will be an interesting situation to follow, but I expect to see Gardiner playing close to 22 minutes a night next year and to be featured on both special teams units. Playing the penalty kill isn’t something Gardiner regularly does, but I think we will see him on the PK unit a bit more next season.

When you look at how he finished this past season, it’s hard not to be optimistic about what the 2017-18 season holds for Gardiner. He ended this past year playing arguably the best hockey of his career and he looks primed for another big year next season.

Next: Looking at the Leafs' right-handed defence problem

How do you think Jake Gardiner played for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2016-17 season? Where do you see his game heading next season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.