Theories abound about the remaining free agents and where they will end up, with defenceman Jake Gardiner among the more curious available names.
Now, the former Toronto Maple Leafs blueliner blew through a lot of currency with the club and the acquisition of Tyson Barrie effectively closes the door on any possible return. Right?
Here’s Gardiner in the wind without a deal and over a week removed from the start of free agency, which is kind of a strange situation.
What’s keeping teams from signing him?
There are flags on the play, for one. Gardiner had back problems in 2019 and that may be enough to keep some teams at bay, especially if he wants more term than they’re willing to cough up. And from some reports, that does indeed seem to be the case.
According to NHL Network analyst E.J. Hradek, Gardiner’s in the market for over two years on a contract and there aren’t many – if any – teams offering that for his talents right now.
So couple the contract desires with the back problems and you’ve got a player that teams may not want to risk money on, which does open the door for Toronto once more. After all, if his dollar value keeps tumbling and he remains on the table, it’s more than possible for the Maple Leafs to afford him and Mitch Marner when the rubber hits the road and Nathan Horton hits the injured reserve list.
Of course, possibilities aren’t much to work with and Kyle Dubas would have to work some magic in order to accomplish it. But we know Gardiner wants to remain with Toronto and we know the Maple Leafs are relatively high on him, so the elements could come together.
Or not. Or we could be looking at Gardiner accepting a lower-than-desired offer elsewhere, even as the Leafs burn through Cody Ceci’s $4.5 million as a third-pair D-man.
There are other teams that could make a play for Gardiner, like the Carolina Hurricanes or the Detroit Red Wings. The defenceman has reported interest in Minnesota, his hometown, and the Los Angeles Kings, while the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks could also be in the running. The Habs, having missed the boat on Sebastian Aho, do have cash in hand.
So yeah, options abound for Jake Gardiner and we may not be waiting long for a contract to materialize. But if nothing happens for another few weeks and the Summer of Marner ventures on, the prospect of a Toronto return for the 28-year-old could turn into a reality after all.
(Lead photo credit: Chris Young/CP)