Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Let the Gardin(er) Grow

I've been thinking about the fact that Jake Gardiner's agent felt the need to tweet #freeJakeGardiner last night, and decided to air my thoughts.

I think it's really unwise for the agent to be stirring the pot like that. Despite losing 3 games this week, there's a lot of good feelings surrounding the Leafs and the progress they've made - WITH guys who have bided their time in the AHL, not been banished to it. Injecting some unneeded controversy into the generally good vibes around the team at this point is selfish and runs completely against the example set by two other Leaf D-men, Komisarek and Liles, who by all accounts have conducted themselves with class and maturity and without the slightest ounce of negativity.

Hankinson (the agent) fails to realize that this new culture around the Maple Leafs, especially in light of the extremely high regard in which Marlies coach Dallas Eakins is held, places a value on time spent working with one of the best young coaches in hockey and someone who seemingly has a hand in the development of all future Leafs. As Eakins said, Gardiner is being developed, he's not locked away in a cage in some far off hockey wasteland. Ask Kadri or Frattin or Scrivens or Fraser or Kostka if Eakins has helped prepare them for the roles they've assumed with Carlyle's Leafs.

And maybe that's just the point the agent misses. Randy Carlyle clearly has little interest in how things were run under Ron Wilson. Anyone who has watched a Carlyle team play understands that this coach stresses sound positional defensive play and no small amount of physicality from his defencemen - precisely what Gardiner lacks. While it's easy to remember the incredibly smooth skating and handful of flashy highlights, the fact of the matter is that Gardiner and his 30 points, even at the AHL level, is on the ice for more goals against than goals for. He has struggled in both the NHL and AHL to learn even basic defensive schemes and, chiefly, to learn when to "go" and when to make a safe play, (sound a bit like Kadri's learning curve?). Go watch a Marlies game and be honest with yourself.

As a Leaf (and sometimes Marlie)-watcher I don't doubt that Gardiner will be called up soon (relax, Nation) and continue his upward trajectory. However, if Gardiner's agent is going to be stirring the pot amidst an otherwise positive situation, I'd be tempted to turn his client into my much-needed 1st-line centre while patiently developing my *cough* no. 1 D prospect, Morgan Rielly.

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