July 29 2014 04:42PM
Has this offseason left you optimistic? Excited? Confused? A combination of all three! Well, we here at TheLeafsNation.com feel the same way. Surely, the Leafs are due for a decision that completely and totally messes this run up and makes every good move made seem insignificant.
Well, today isn't the day for that. Jake Gardiner is back, and he's here for five more years, at a cap hit of $4.05 million.
After all of this talk of a potential "bridge deal", the Leafs took their chances on the 24 year old defenceman. And honestly, can you blame them? Just 167 games into his career, Gardiner has taken massive strides in his game, especially when you consider he had playstyle-altering concussion in his second season.
The basic stats show promise. In both of his full seasons, he's put up 30 points, with 23 and 19 of them respectively coming at even strength. He's done this without inflated shooting percentages (even on-ice). He's shooting more frequently, he's playing more games, and he's never in penalty trouble.
The fancy stats, even more so. The Leafs have been better at controlling the play in every regular season and playoffs of his career. This comes without a spectacular amount of "luck", and while facing decent competition. He starts more of his shifts in the offensive zone, but that's to be expected given his playstyle.
Speaking of, if this team's systems are going to be changing this year, his eyeball critics will probably go away pretty quickly. The biggest flaw in his game to many are his "mental lapses", but you wonder how much of that is him actually making bad decisions, or the team's flawed system working against him. The plan, from the sounds of it, is to carry the puck in more - something he excels at. There should be less of the wingers cherry picking at centre - their failure to receive the puck created a lot of Jake's first pass turnovers and icings. When he would break away from the structure to try his own thing, players weren't ready for it. A new approach could do wonders for him.
He may do wonders for others as well; if he doesn't end up playing with Dion Phaneuf this season, his pairing will at the very least get some more minutes to alleviate the pressure. The tables are starting to turn, and Toronto is looking more like an opportunity to succeed than a black hole for Gardiner's career. So naturally, locking him up for half a decade is the perfect choice by management.
As for the money? $4.05 million is probably already worth it, let alone as he hits his prime. With the cap getting progressively higher, that already low percentage will look lower.
Everything Is Awesome
It's amazing isn't it? A bit of debate about the Polak and Frattin trades aside, the Leafs appear to be batting close to a thousand this offseason. Heading into August, they're $120,000 over the cap, but also have 22 skaters on the roster. Taking out the three weakest links (likely Orr, Smith, and one of Bodie or Frattin) should bring Toronto another $2,000,000 in relief, which allows them to carry both a 7th defenceman and a 13th forward and still have a bit of room to spare, if need be.
The knock that some people may have is that these moves prevent them from picking up the "project signing" type of player, but the Leafs are already ahead of the game there too. They've picked up guys like David Booth and Daniel Winnik long before anybody else had the chance. In a surprise plot twist, the team has gone from employing half a bottom six to having an abundance of talent in that regard, along with having six defencemen who are all capable of taking on minutes. Add on a return to the same goaltending duo as last year?
Barring the coaching staff devising the worst strategies known to man, things are looking up right now. It's a good time to be excited. When was the last time you were able to say that about this team?