There aren’t many critiques to make about the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team sits tied for second in the Atlantic Division and are scoring at a pretty ridiculous pace (3.80 GF/GP), but the only real thing that hockey fans have been quick to point out is the roster’s lack of depth on defence. However, head coach Mike Babcock seems to think otherwise.
While Morgan Rielly has been garnering most of the attention on the back end (4 G, 10 A, 10 GP) it was Jake Gardiner who Babcock praised ahead of his team’s home contest against the Winnipeg Jets. He described the luxury of having two 50+ point scorers on the blue line and went as far as calling Gardiner “an elite, elite player”.
That’s some seriously high praise, especially coming from someone who coached Nicklas Lidstrom for a good chunk of his career. Fans had all sorts of reactions after his words became public.
Gardiner’s offensive skills have never been in doubt but his ability to defend against the league’s top talent has been questioned. The 28-year-old had a plus/minus -5 rating in Toronto’s game 7 loss to the Bruins in the 2018 postseason and fans have had a tough time letting that go since.
Through 10 games, Gardiner has six assists and a plus/minus rating of 0. He’s set to become a UFA in the summer so time will tell how things will work out between the two sides going forward.
(H/T Kristen Shilton)