Every player has a price. As much as Gardiner has been impressive this season – most notably, in his single-handed ability to make Dion Phaneuf tradeable – he still has his detractors. Do any of those detractors sit amongst Leafs management? All signs would point to no. Even Babcock seems to be a fan of Gardiner, suggesting Gardiner and Morgan Rielly are the two future pieces to build around on the backend.
It’s hard to disagree, but there is a big difference between Gardiner and Rielly: Gardiner is 25, Rielly 21. That’s a huge age gap, and with the presumed Championship-calibre core being made up of players currently in the AHL and CHL, the question has to be at least asked: does Gardiner fit into the long-term plans? How old will he be when the Leafs are truly competitive?
Once you start asking those questions, inevitably the next questions become: should we trade him now? What could we get for him?
With Edmonton likely to get another 1st overall pick this year (you just know the Leafs aren’t getting it, no matter how hard they try), the Oilers will be adding another elite forward prospect to their organization. It’s funny to say this, but they actually have too many projected elite forwards. They need a great d-man who can play now and complement their talented group up front. Gardiner could easily fit the bill, as his skating and puck-moving would get the Oilers out of their zone quickly and get the forwards the puck. Plus, Gardiner is great defensively – something the Oilers lack. For the Leafs, the Oilers are an attractive trading partner – they could trade Gardiner for a forward, and then draft Jacob Chychrun 4th overall when they inevitably lose out on all top three lottery picks.
Potential Trade Pieces: Leon Draisatl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Oscar Klefbom, Laurent Brossoit, Bogdan Yakimov, 2016 1st, 2017 1st
Potential Salary Dumps: Mark Fayne, Justin Schultz
It’s no secret that the Bruins need help on defense. Their forward group is very strong and well-balanced, but the trading of Dougie Hamilton and the aging of Zdeno Chara leaves a lot of questions. Gardiner would help lead their next wave of d-men, giving them a strong two-way player that would contribute in every facet of the game. For the Leafs, Boston has some good prospects and picks to pick from.
Potential Trade Pieces: David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, Malcolm Subban, Jake DeBrusk, Zachary Senyshyn, Frank Vatrano, Colin Miller, Alexander Khokhlachev, Jakub Zboril
Potential Salary Dumps: Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid
Tampa Bay Lightning
Other than Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, Tampa’s D is a mess. Overpaid veterans litter the back-end, and Tampa isn’t getting enough out of them to warrant the paycheques. Gardiner would be a fantastic fit, helping round out a very elite top 3 with the aforementioned Hedman and Stralman. Tampa also has a big piece of trade bait that has been discussed a little bit this season: Jonathan Drouin. He’d be a nice fit in Toronto. Only problem with Tampa as a desination for Gardiner? I’d rather Gardiner get familiar with Stamkos when he becomes a Leaf.
Potential Trade Pieces: Jonathan Drouin, Vladislav Namestnikov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Anthony Deangelo, Brayden Point, Mitchell Stephens, Adam Erne, Slater Koekkoek, Dennis Yan
Potential Salary Dumps: Matt Carle, Jason Garrison, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Callahan
When Matt Duchene’s name came up in the rumour mill earlier this season, Jake Gardiner was mentioned as a possible return. The Avs and Leafs had discussed a Gardiner-for-ROR swap last year before the Avs moved him to Buffalo. What does that tell us? The Avs have interest in Gardiner, which is a good starting point. It makes sense – other than Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson, there isn’t much to like on their backend. Gardiner would help round their top three out – although, Barrie’s name has been in the rumour mill this season as well. Spitballing for fun: the Leafs need a RHD – could we see a Gardiner for Barrie swap?
Potential Trade Pieces:
Tyson Barrie, Matt Duchene, Mikko Rantanen, Nikita Zadorov, Chris Bigras, Calvin Pickard, 2016 1st
Potential Salary Dumps:
Brad Stuart, Blake Comeau
It’s impressive how elite the Stars have been with an average group of defensemen. And with two of their best d-men (Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers) being UFAs at year’s end, it would make sense for them to be interested in a young d-man under contract for the next few years. For the Leafs, Dallas has some great D prospects, and the highly-skilled Valeri Nichushkin’s name has popped up in the rumour mill lately. He would be a great power winger to play alongside William Nylander in the future. Additional thought: Dallas is currently spending $10.5 million against the cap on goalies per year. Could the Leafs package Gardiner and a goalie, take on the contract of Niemi or Lehtonen and get paid handsomely to do so?
Potential Trade Pieces: Valeri Nichushkin, Julius Honka, Mattias Janmark, Denis Guryanov, Roope Hintz, Esa Lindell, Jason Dickinson, 2016 1st
Potential Salary Dumps: Cody Eakin, Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi