Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple leafs

Today Jonas Siegel of TSN wrote a column on Jake Gardiner, which included a few quotes from the Leafs’ struggling young defenseman. And by “struggling,” I mean “struggling to earn the games and minutes some think he deserves.”  If you haven’t picked it up yet, I’m among those people (I wrote this, after all.)

And, with Ryan O’Byrne in tonight, it’s possible he could once again find himself in the press box.

Here’s what Gardiner had to say in the piece, which caught my eye (emphasis mine):

“I think I have to be better defensively with coach Carlyle,” Gardiner said of the contrast between Carlyle and his first coach in the NHL, Ron Wilson. “It seems like he’s a little more detailed than Wilson was in that sense. Last year it seemed like I could, not get away with anything, but just [be] more offensive-minded than defensive.”

That emphasis and balance has shifted.

They want me to join the rush,” Gardiner explained, “[but now] I’m just thinking defence first all the time, make sure I don’t get scored on out there. But anytime there’s a rush I’m going to try and join it if I can.”

It’s pretty simple dude. Just join the rush and focus on defense.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston BruinsThis is a fairly standard problem with old-school coaches, at least in my experience.

For some reason, if a player is defensively responsible, he can log endless minutes for his club, even if he’s a goddamn nightmare offensively. Because everyone can dump the puck in, all you have to do is be capable on D and you can make it work and get to play.

Yet you can be one of the more offensively talented players around, and if you struggle on D, old-school coaches have no patience for you, despite what you may create for the team. You may put together a play your average player never could, but by god, you will not get the chance to if you get beat back to your own net.

And so it goes with Gardiner. Toronto has him in a place where they’re crossing his wires – we need you to be better defensively, but also keep providing the offense we know you can. Got it, coach.

That’s not how it works, or at least not how it should work. If you’re putting a kid in the pressbox because he’s struggling at one thing in particular, you can’t punish him for paying attention to that one thing and letting something else slide. How much can a player do in one shift? You need all the pieces to put together The Puzzle, which you could legitimately have with a player like Gardiner, so you need to make exceptions: we’re not asking you to score 30 points this year, we’re asking you to work on your D. Once you get that down, we can get back to doing what we know you can at the other end. One thing at a time.

They want me to join the rush,” Gardiner explained, “[but now] I’m just thinking defence first all the time, make sure I don’t get scored on out there. But anytime there’s a rush I’m going to try and join it if I can.”

Pretty simple.

I’m a Jake Gardiner fan – of his talent-level, at the very least – so I like to bitch about this stuff. I just can’t imagine how convoluted the message must be for him right now. He’s concussed, he’s sent down, he’s called up, he’s healthy scratched, they want defense, they want offense, they want it all. Now.

It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to just let the kid be and let him get in a groove. But apparently it is.

Comments (17)

  1. I expect Kris Letang level play from him and nothing less.

  2. Bring back Luke Schenn and suit Gardiner on the wing. LOL

  3. Gardiner is top-20 in terms of raw ability among d-men. He needs to play and work through his mistakes. They allowed Kadri to do just that (and they still do — he is dog SHITE on draws), and the result is an all-star offensive dynamo. Jake needs a longer leash. Agree with you 100%, J.B.

  4. Just another example of poor player management by the Leafs.

    Reminds me of my minor hockey days. Apparently Mike Kostka’s dad is like a dentist and plays golf with the ownership group. Poor Jake Gardiner’s dad is a plumber and drives a ’98 Hyundai.

    • Yep, this sort of thing messes with a player’s head. Tell him what you want him to work on and give him the time to work on it. He’ll make mistakes, he’ll have good and bad games. It’s a part of the process.

      • Absolutely, and I get the sense that whoever is really calling the shots in Toronto has a different set of goals than the players. Or maybe Carlyle, though I’m not sure about him, either.

      • I have fellow Bruin fans who are complaining about Hamilton making stupid plays in the defensive zone…he’s a kid, he’s gonna fuck up, let him grow for at least a year or two at this level before condemning him as a liability. Same thing is probably true for this Gardiner kid.

        • Yep, they’re going to make mistakes (and maybe lots of them). The goal should be to get them paired with a solid guy who can teach them. In a few years we’ll know if they’re a defensive liability or not.

    • Turns out both Kostka and Gardiner are scratches tonight. I can’t even keep up with the headf%&$ing going on in TO.

  5. I think Jake WILL get time to work through his learnings… next year. In a shortened season, where the Leafs have a shot at making the playoffs and NEED to make them, I don’t think is the best time to blood in a newer offensive dman who has a lot to learn behind his own blue line. Jake will turn into a very good man but really he has the skills but he needs to learn better positioning.

    • Gardiner played 75 NHL games last season and scored 30 pts while driving possession. How much “blooding in” could he possibly need?

      The guys playing over him Kostka/Holzer have less combined NHL games than Gardiner does.

      • Mainly under Wilson where Gardiner himself admitted in the interview he could get away with anything. And the Leafs did how well making the playoffs playing wide open again???

        And I am not a Koska or Holzer fan either. Holzer at least has some upside. Koska is a waste of hair. Gardiner has a chance to be Letang Jr. if he can learn both ends. Letang went through the same huge growing pains in Pittsburgh where many wondered if he would ever live up to billing. Pittsburgh had a much better team they could hide him more as he learned. The Leafs do not.

  6. changing the switch in your head from offence to defence takes time but once he makes defence his Instincive decision he will be a grear defenseman. He has all the tools just needs to use them better it took time for kadri to use his skills at the right time and assess this rksk of his plays before making them jake is going through similar growth. Now is a time to win games and gear up for the playoffs, not to put someone in to round out his game. That said I believe he will be playing top 4 minutes by the playoffs.

  7. Agree with James. Gardner will learn more at this point watching than playing and making mistakes that destroy his confidence. This is the playoff drive. Bring him along slowly. His time will come.

  8. Do Leafs fans want to be happy or do they want to be right?

    Feels like there is a lot of armchair analytics out there trying to prove Carlyle is making fatal roster errors game in and game out, but as the season goes and the wins pile up I start to ask myself why Leafs fans can’t just be happy? The team is winning. The playoffs are in sight. If Carlyle was sitting Kessel for Hamilton and the Leafs were 82-0, I wouldn’t shed a tear for Kessel. Winning and playoffs are all Leafs fans should care about.

    • Why can’t we be both?

      I’m thrilled the Leafs are in a strong playoff position. But I’m also not happy about their handling of Gardiner, and I’m convinced if he were in the lineup and allowed to play with confidence that the Leafs would be in an even better position than they are now. Seriously, why he sits in the press box while scrubs like Kostka get playing time is beyond me.

      I won’t stop being happy about where the Leafs are but I also won’t stop criticizing them if I think they are in the wrong, as they are with Gardiner.

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