Jake Gardiner will not return with the Toronto Maple Leafs next season but that is why the team made it a point to trade for Tyson Barrie during the off-season.
Many expected Jake Gardiner to land an expensive ticket in free agency including the Toronto Maple Leafs and instead of waiting and seeing what would happen, they went out and traded for Tyson Barrie.
Not only did Kyle Dubas do a good job in making sure the Leafs were prepared for Gardiner leaving but found a more than suitable replacement considering Barrie is a right-handed shot. Obviously, the downside is that Barrie is an unrestricted free agent after this season but the Leafs will have more cap flexibility going into the off-season.
For Gardiner, he took the security of a long-term deal even though he didn’t get the pay raise he was expecting. The Leafs shouldn’t be worried about their situation considering many didn’t expect Gardiner to come back in the first place even if he didn’t get a raise.
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Now there are people saying the Leafs would be able to afford Gardiner if they didn’t sign Cody Ceci but the Leafs would have been risking Ceci potentially receiving a two-year deal if he went to arbitration. Instead, the team decided to get him locked into a one-year deal that will walk him to free agency.
Let’s not forget that the team acquired Ceci to rid themselves of Nikita Zaitsev‘s contract and replace him with another right-handed shot who they think can have a role this season. Jake Muzzin is also another reason why Gardiner was considered expendable considering he took his spot in the lineup.
Right now the team will operate with Rielly and Ceci as the top pairing, Muzzin and Barrie as the second pairing which should be seen as a big upgrade. Then when Travis Dermott is healthy, he could go to the top pairing or staying on the third pairing with whichever right-handed shot makes it between Timothy Liljegren, Nick Schmaltz and Justin Holl.
There is also something to be said about Barrie’s ability to put up points especially at even strength. Last season he was putting up 0.18 goals per game, 0.58 assists per game and 0.76 points per game which were all better than Gardiner’s output (0.05 goals per game, 0.44 assists per game and .48 points per game).
Even if you took the injuries out of it, Barrie was better last season putting up 0.84 points per game while Gardiner had 0.63 points per game. That improvement should make a difference, especially on the powerplay depending on which unit Mike Babcock plays Barrie on.
Also, the new defender relies on similar traits as Gardiner to move the puck but if you have watched Barrie during his time in Colorado, he showed he was more than capable of moving the puck efficiently and won’t be a deer stuck in the headlights when the pressure is on him.
While many are not too thrilled to see Gardiner leave to go play in Carolina, the Leafs made sure they weren’t going to miss Gardiner’s production and definitely found an upgrade in Barrie which did not come cheap but could prove to be a difference-maker.
Do you think the Leafs can rely on Barrie to replace Gardiner? Should the Leafs have tried to keep Gardiner? Let us know in the comments below.