Gardiner On The Trade Block? Show Me The Centre

Before you flick the switch and let yourself spin around the ceiling fan, let’s consider that a Jake Gardiner trade might not be as bad as you think.

If you haven’t read the report, Elliotte Friedman wrote the following in his always enlightening 30 Thoughts piece:

14. There is definitely some level of conversation going on between other teams and Toronto involving Jake Gardiner. I despise the word "shopped," as it's more like a feeling-out process. If the Maple Leafs do decide to do it, it's going to be for a young asset or assets. So, you have to look at teams with talented young players. This is PURELY my speculation, but if teams like Dallas, Florida or Minnesota would be interested, you could see a match.

15. The Gardiner talk surprised me, because he was so impressive against Boston in last year's playoffs. There are scouts who still have questions, but most agree that he has a valuable skill -- he can skate the puck out of trouble”

Firstly, it wouldn’t make sense to swap Gardiner for another defenseman, and you can certainly rule out a goaltender being acquired. So, if a trade does indeed transpire, it will, in all likelihood, involve a forward coming the Leafs’ way. And Gardiner’s $850K cap-hit is hardly menacing so you can also rule out the addition of draft picks, which would just be horrendous.

On the wings, the Leafs are fairly comfortable with Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, Nikolai Kulemin, Mason Raymond and David Clarkson (once he returns from suspension) patrolling the top-nine forward unit. Troy Bodie has been decent on the third line but the Leafs don’t exactly have a ton of depth should a barrage of injuries strike. In any case, it still makes no sense trading a talent such as Gardiner to acquire forward depth.

Basically, if the Leafs relinquish Gardiner, it has to rectify a glaring hole upfront. And that hole, as many Leafs fans are privy to, is currently being patched up with Tyler Bozak, who signed a five-year extension in the summer.

It doesn’t make much sense to (wrongfully) hand Bozak the keys to the first-line centre throne and then yank them away the proceeding season, does it? Is it possible the Leafs are considering moving Nazem Kadri to the wing due to his struggles in the face-off dots, thus letting Bozak slot in as the second-line centre? It seems unlikely but if there’s anything the Leafs and general manager Dave Nonis have proven this summer, it’s that nothing is outlandish. Just ask Mikhail Grabovski.

It doesn’t appear as though the Leafs undervalue Gardiner to the extent of selling low, as Friedman mentioned in a tweet that “if you want to (acquire Gardiner)...it will cost you.”

No one quite knows what Nonis considers a fair price for the 23-year-old defenseman, but one can assume it wouldn’t be for peanuts.

It seems odd that the Leafs would consider shipping out a defenseman that can skate the puck up the ice and direct play in the offensive end, but a potential first-line centre, such as, say, Sean Couturier, may entice the Leafs to throw all their eggs in the Morgan Rielly basket.

This is purely speculative, but if the Leafs were to trade Gardiner for Couturier, it’d be hard to complain. Couturier makes a modest $925K so the Leafs wouldn’t be any further in cap space hell than they already are, and it’s essentially a swap of high-end potential.

It’s also worth nothing that Bob McKenzie had mentioned on TSN radio that the Flyers are looking for mobility on the blueline. Gardiner certainly fits the bill there so perhaps there’s a fit.

Again, that’s pure speculation and there’s no credible source suggesting it’s in the works. And the real question is whether the Leafs are willing to push Bozak down the depth chart. Frankly, despite the fact that it might make a mess of the roster, if you can acquire a first-line centre, push Bozak wherever the hell you want, roster complications be damned.

In any case, this will be an interesting story to monitor as the season develops.

@21RRG