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.