Can Gardiner take over?

With the Jake Gardiner contract now sorted out, the Leafs look to be just about done
with their off-season activity. They’ve made a few short-term,
low-risk moves that most around these parts are happy with, and
handled everything else a lot better than we were expecting. It’s been a
relatively positive summer.

There could
be a minor change or two left to open up some bottom six forward spots, but it looks
like we’ve finally reached the point where we can do what Leafs’ fans do
best: pick the lineup apart five-hundred different ways until opening
night. 

The blue line has obviously been a problem Nonis
(I guess I still have to say it’s him, right?) is trying to address. In with
Polak and Robidas, out with Gunnarsson and Gleason – the Leafs haven’t made
sweeping changes but they certainly needed to try something new, and are hoping
these tweaks, along with the continued emergence of Gardiner and Rielly, will
be enough to improve what was a dreadful group last season.

But how does that look in the lineup?

The guys on
That’s Hockey (Kouleas and Simmons) discussed Gardiner’s new contract on
Wednesday evening, and Simmons mentioned that according to folks he’s talked to
around the Leafs, the idea is to pair up Gardiner with Robidas, Phaneuf with
Polak, and finally Rielly with Franson. Of course this isn’t set in stone by
any means, and it could obviously change a million times before the season starts, but it did make me think. Until now, Phaneuf has been carrying all
the heavy weight, logging enormous minutes, and is widely viewed (rightly or wrongly)
as the Leafs’ number one defenceman. Whether he’d have that title on a better
team has been debated for a while.

Either way, the
thinking has typically been that Phaneuf would remain a top-pairing guy, and the
veteran Robidas would likely join him to take on the best opposition. I like
the idea of Gardiner with Robidas a whole lot more, and seeing Phaneuf’s
minutes start to take a cut would be a nice change. It isn’t that I dislike
Phaneuf, but he hasn’t exactly shown the ability to turn the puck in the other
direction in the role he’s been playing, and he could probably use the break
from it. Placing him in a reduced role against some easier matchups could make
him oodles more effective, and leave some gas in the tank.

There’s the
assumption that due to his contract, Phaneuf needs to be played as the
top defenceman on the team, but that’s a poor way to run a hockey club. It
could be time for Gardiner to take a big leap here and step in to those heavy minutes. He’s logged a decent chunk already (averaging 21:15 in his time with
the Leafs) but alongside a guy like Robidas, it would be nice if he could help
take what’s been seasons of the Leafs being buried in their own zone for the
majority of each game, and turn it into putting the other team on their heels
for once. You need to get to a place where your most talented defencemen are on
the ice and making the opposition worry, instead of being in constant survival
mode. 

Suggesting
that Phaneuf moves on to a pairing with Polak (or Franson, whoever) is
suggesting that his minutes likely go south. Polak has seen his overall playing
time with the Blues decrease every season since 2009, most recently averaging 17:20
per night this past year. On a good team he isn’t a 2/3, and the Leafs want to
be a good team. 

Another positive spin-off from this could be that Phaneuf sees his production
increase in lighter minutes, and the Leafs can then entertain moving that enormous
contract sometime in the next year or so.

NOTES

Now that the
Leafs have added Winnik and Booth, I’m even more baffled by the
signing of Komarov early in free agency. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Komarov, but
the salary and term for a bottom six guy didn’t make much sense at the time of
his signing, and now the Leafs have added players that can bring as much or more to
the table for nearly a third of Komarov’s price. Komarov won’t be
a disaster in the lineup or anything like that, but maybe the Leafs could have waited
and added another Winnik/Booth-type deal, saving themselves a lot of money. It’s probably not something to be overly worried about in the big picture going forward, as it seems management might be a bit more thoughtful about their use of cap dollars than they were a month ago, but to that point, it makes you wonder how much the conversations between Dubas and Shanahan have impacted that office already, and who’s actually in charge right now. 

  • Lupul4Captain

    “Another positive spin-off from this could be that Phaneuf sees his production increase in lighter minutes, and the Leafs can then entertain moving that enormous contract sometime in the next year or so.”

    This is getting ridiculous, when are you fools going to realize that there is zero chance of Dion getting traded?

    They tried the market out before they signed him and clearly the return wasn’t going to be enough. And if you trade him, who’s supposed to take his place?

    So they signed him for 7 years.

    Dion is sticking around for a while, get used to it.

  • Lupul4Captain

    crazy thought, but i wonder if the leafs plan to put komarov on the 2nd line with kadri and lupul. he’d be the kulemin of that line, they’d draw tons of penalties, and it would give him a chance to see if his KHL numbers can at least somewhat translate to the NHL.

  • Lupul4Captain

    The two main proposals in the article seem somewhat in conflict: 1.Give Phaneuf a lesser role; 2. Eventually trade him. The conflict arises if 2 is peoposed under the assumption the Leafs will get best value for P.: Who’s going to want to pay 8 million for what its own team deems a second line d-man? Thats a number 1D salary, and it matters at least because of how it affects trade value. So if the eventual plan is to trade P., the better strategy would be to spread the minutes more but keep him as your 1D.

  • Lupul4Captain

    As for your Phaneuf attack, he has been playing top line minuets with 3-6 pairing defensemen. How do you expect his corsi to look he tries to over compensate because of lack of talent in the back end. He is atleast a number 2 d on 25 teams in the league. But with leafs like Gardiner and Rielly hopefully continuing to mature maybe this can help with his play and get back to the mean Phaneuf who players kept their heads up for.

  • Lupul4Captain

    So leafs trade gunner BC he can’t play top 2 replace him with a worse player and expect him to play top pairing minuets? Either Robidas or Gardiner play there, depending if Phaneuf whine about playing left side. Gardiner should be paired with Franson Rielly with Polak. But with Robidas coming off the injury he’s better suited playing 2nd line minuets with Rielly. But this is just my opinion. Also I doubt Franson is a leaf starting the season probably traded for a pick, and Leafs use Finn and Granberg as number 6-7 d

  • Lupul4Captain

    Also Simmons is an idiot. Any fancy stats practioner knows, that what should happen here is Phaneuf needs to buried as depth dman (maybe start him of as 6/7th until his corsi rel improves and he can handle the load). Phaneuf is basically an overpaid Clarkson on defence.

    And do that while Franson needs to play first pairing minutes (perhaps with Gardiner) as our new top pairing. If Dubas knows anything about advanced stats that what he should do. Do that and playoffs easily.

      • Lupul4Captain

        Any actual “fancy stats practitioner” looks at all the stats and not just Corsi + Corsi rel. What about that QoC TOI%? or that ZS%? They would also look at the difference between his even corsi close and his even corsi leading and even corsi trailing and notice the effect of Carlyle’s system on his play.

        Realize that Phaneuf, although not a #1 defenceman on a team that’s a cup contender, is still a very solid defenceman who is most definitely better than 6/7 position.

        Franson should absolutely NOT be playing first pairing minutes. He is fantastic, but he can’t skate. Stick him on every powerplay, but play him against the oponent’s third line in even strength play, he will not thrive against a high QoC for the even strength.

        Gardiner should be playing first pairing minutes with Phaneuf this year, and Reilly looks like in a few years he’ll be number 1 defenceman quality. If Phaneuf is our #3 down the line I’d be more than happy.

        Gardiner – Phaneuf
        Robidas – Reilly
        Franson – Polak

        is what I’d try first. If it doesn’t work try something else, but on paper that looks like it could be strong.

  • Lupul4Captain

    The risky Gardiner signing is starting to grow on me. I’m surprised Gardiner didn’t take a bridge deal to get out from under Carlyle sooner. But reading Gardiner’s comments, Gardiner hasn’t shown to be a dependable defensive player though if Carlyle believes in Gardiner enough to sign him up for 5 years, then perhaps Carlyle feels he can transform Gardiner from a turnover machine to Norris Calibre Dman like he did himself. And at least Gardiner understands his deficiencies and respects Carlyle enough to want to learn and continue to play for him.

    And since Carlyle is a stanley cup winning coach and Norris dman, I think there is a good chance Gardiner will grow and develop under Carlyle’s knowledge and tutelage.