The William Nylander's contract dispute with the Toronto Maple Leafs creeps closer towards the Dec. 1 deadline, and we still have no clue what will happen to the young winger for the rest of the 2018-19 season. But what if we stopped thinking that the Maple Leafs will trade him, and focus on another player that could be on the move this season.
Aren't you sick of just hearing about Nylander anyway?
At the end of last season, when defenseman Jake Gardiner got most of the blame for Toronto's first round elimination at the hands of the Boston Bruins, Leafs fans wanted him out of town and shipped out to another team. Even a GoFundMe page was created in order to buy out his contract and be done with the blue liner.
However, you must admit, that would be crazy. And even now the talks of trading him sounds risky: the 28-year-old bring a career-long value to the team. Jim Parsons of The Hockey Writers recently revealed that rumors out of Toronto suggest that Gardiner was “being viewed as expendable.” The veteran blue liner is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and like it or now, he is set to get a raise and sign an expensive contract. The problem is that Toronto already has so much on its plate with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in line for lucrative contract extensions that Gardiner might be used as one of the club's greatest trade chips.
Already the 10th-highest scoring defenseman in Maple Leafs’ history, you can be sure Leafs GM Kyle Dubas' phone will be ringing as the trade deadline approaches to investigate about Gardiner. And while some fans might be tentative about parting with the veteran player, lets' not forget that the Leafs can count on young blue liner Travis Dermott, who will continue to grow and has defensive instincts that will allow him to fill in for Gardiner.
He would bring in a great return for the Leafs as well and would also free up some much needed cap space for the Leafs to use with their important signings coming up this summer. His current cap hit and salary is $4.05 million, that weighs a lot in the balance.
It remains to be seen in the Leafs will decide to move of one their most dependable defenders, especially at a time where most hockey pundits keep repeating that Toronto needs a better blue line to become a true Stanley Cup contender. And it is hard to forget about his brilliant performance from last season, despite the Game 7 fiasco: he had 52 points, with a goals-against average of only 2.4 per 60 minutes. That counts for something.
Gardiner has always been quite vocal about how much he loves playing and living in Toronto; a rival team could have doubts about his motivated once traded. And Leafs fans must like seeing how much the guy loves the city, right?
Many NHL insiders are saying that this year is THE year for the Maple Leafs to make a push and win a Stanley Cup. If this is what is the most important for the team at the moment, then Dubas should probably hold on to Gardiner. He could wait and see, if the Cup run falls short after all, if there is interest for Gardiner before the opening of free agency on July 1st, when he might lose him for nothing.
If the Leafs are out of it by February: sure, trade Gardiner for what you can get at the deadline. However, many believe the Maple Leafs will be quite busy showing to everyone how this year could be the one... with Gardiner on the roster.