Jake Gardiner— Are The Edmonton Oilers Interested?
Trusted TSN hockey expert Bob McKenzie bandied around the idea of Toronto exploring their options where Gardiner is concerned but, like many in the hockey world, questioned Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Dave Nonis’ willingness to pull the trigger on a deal for the talented, often careless, defenseman.
Like many young defensemen, Gardiner has struggled to find his way in his own end. That said, his offensive prowess has many GM’s drooling, which is why it appears as if several teams have contacted Nonis about Gardiner’s availability.
Originally drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round (17th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Gardiner came to the Maple Leafs in the Francois Beauchemin deal. Gardiner’s smooth skating style and ability to move the puck make him a valuable commodity, but his penchant for coughing up pucks and poor defensive positioning have some experts wondering if he can evolve into a top-tier defenseman.
At 23-years old, Gardiner is still a baby by NHL defenseman standards. After a good rookie campaign (7 goals, 23 assists, minus-2 rating), Gardiner’s game dipped in 2012-13, with a paltry four assists in 12 games. Gardiner did bounce back with a strong playoff performance (1 goal, four assists in six games against the Boston Bruins). That said, this season Gardiner is yet to register a point in four games and appears to be struggling in his own end once again.
Off-season acquisitions Dave Bolland and David Clarkson have given the Maple Leafs a measure of depth up front that they did not have last season. As good as Bolland has been in the early going (2 goals, 1 assist, plus+2 rating through four games) and David Clarkson is expected to be, the Leafs are always looking to upgrade their forward troops.
One of the clubs believed to be interested in Gardiner are the Edmonton Oilers. Flush in talented forwards, the Oilers have struggled on the backend for a number of seasons. Youngster Justin Schultz has been a nice addition to the Oilers defense, while Andrew Ferrence has brought a veteran presence to an otherwise very inexperienced team.
Truth be told, the Oilers would probably benefit from more of a stay-at-home defenseman joining their core, but the addition of Gardiner is tantalizing nonetheless.
So, what would it take for the Oilers to land Gardiner?
If (and it’s a big “If”) Nonis decided to trade Gardiner it is believed that he would be looking for a top-six forward. With Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins believed to be untouchable, that means Edmonton would have to entertain the idea of shipping one of Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner or Nail Yakapov to Toronto. Eberle is a proven commodity, Gagner is a bit of a wild-card, while Yakapov is looked upon as one of the most talented prospects to come along in the past decade. Outside of Gagner (whom the Maple Leafs would have to be luke-warm on), does anyone really believe the Oilers would give up Eberle or Yakapov for Gardiner?
The better fit for Edmonton may, in fact, be targeting Dion Phaneuf. While Phaneuf has his fair share of detractors, his overall game has been improving since his arrival from the Calgary Flames to Toronto.
Phaneuf (who becomes a unrestricted free agent after this season) would bring valuable leadership, experience, toughness, the ability to run the power play and the ability to log heavy minutes— all qualities the Oilers need. The Oilers also have the cap room (ranked 25th overall in cap hits) to entertain the idea of bringing in Phaneuf— who will be looking for upwards of $6-8 million per year on a multi-year deal next summer.
Of course, trading Phaneuf would mean Toronto would be giving up a huge piece of their own defense, and giving up on their captain as well. That said, should Nonis get the feeling Phaneuf’s camp will be looking for too much money, he may be inclined to consider trading his best defenseman.
Like Gardiner, Phaneuf would garner a good return, with the same names being bandied about from Edmonton. In the case of Phaneuf, maybe the Oilers consider moving an Eberle? Maybe they would consider putting together a package which would include a draft choice or prospect and Gagner?
One thing’s for sure, the Oilers need an upgrade on defense, and the Maple Leafs have a number of players (Gardiner, Phaneuf, Franson, Mark Fraser) that should interest them.