Toronto Maple Leafs: Criticism towards Jake Gardiner warranted

Jake Gardiner #51 of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Jake Gardiner #51 of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs had another game where they did not look like themselves and Jake Gardiner was the in the middle of the fans rage.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have not looked themselves lately and Monday’s 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche was a great example of what has been going wrong.

It looked like the team was missing an extra gear as Colorado pushed the tempo, and looked more invested and honestly they should have been considering their recent struggles. That does not excuse the lack of effort from the Leafs who have lost five of their past six games at home.

Since Dec. 1 they are 10-7-2 which is 15th during that stretch scoring 68 goals and allowing 61. Their power play has been operating at 14.3 per cent during that stretch while their penalty kill has been 84.3 per cent. That is not going to cut it for a team with high expectations and came out strong in the first couple of months of the season.

Against the Avalanche, Leafs fans found a player to direct their frustrations towards and it was Jake Gardiner. This came after Carl Soderberg (who scored a hat trick) outworked the defender to put Colorado ahead 3-2.

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After that goal, Mike Babcock benched Gardiner for the remainder of the second period and demoted him to the third pairing.

On a night where the Leafs blueline was mediocre, Gardiner put up a 25.00 CF% and Nikita Zaitsev put up a CF% of 25.93 at even strength.

They weren’t the only pairing who struggled against Colorado as Morgan Rielly (30.95 CF%) and Ron Hainsey (34.21 CF%) and had a -2 goal differential. So why was Gardiner the one getting booed by Leafs fans?

Well, it has been no secret that Leafs Nation has had their issues with Gardiner for years and while some of it has been harsh, he deserves to be criticized for his play this season. At least he isn’t brushing this off as he was emotional when speaking to the media postgame.

"“That hasn’t happened before, that’s for sure,” Gardiner said to reporters. “It’s not something you want to hear, but plays happen in a game, fans are passionate and they want to win.”"

Gardiner is right about one thing, Leafs fans are passionate and have been deserving of a winning team so you can’t blame them when they get frustrated by a player who gets outworked when chasing down a puck. Fans still have the memory of Game 7 against the Boston Bruins and since then Gardiner hasn’t been the same.

Considering this is a contract year for the 28-year-old you would think he would want to establish himself to get a pay raise. With two goals and 22 assists for 24 points in 44 games, that is not going to have as many teams lining up to pay up for the Minnesota native.

Maybe this will be a wakeup call for Gardiner because the Leafs need him to pick his game up after what has been a tough stretch for the team.

However, booing a player is harsh, and while fans have a reason to be frustrated the last thing we want to see is a flashback of when Dion Phaneuf was getting same treatment. Sure, there hasn’t been a lot to cheer for lately at Scotiabank Arena but instead of making one player the scapegoat isn’t the answer either.

There are many players who deserve criticism for their play lately bit you won’t see people boo William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, and Patrick Marleau…well maybe Nylander if he continues to struggle.

Gardiner’s play hasn’t been good enough and he deserves criticism but that has to come from Mike Babcock and management who should see this as a warning that fans are not going to put up with the Leafs lack of effort.

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What did you think about the Leafs performance and Gardiner getting booed by the crowd? Was it justified? Let us know in the comments below.