One of the biggest surprises during the 2019 NHL free agency window is the fact that Jake Gardiner has not signed a contract heading into the month of August. Gardiner was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks 17th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, but has spent his entire NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Gardiner is arguably the best remaining player left in free agency after spending almost a month on the NHL’s open market. The biggest belief as to why he remains unsigned is due to teams having concerns in signing him long-term as he has faced significant injury problems.
Despite the supposed lack of interest in the 29-year-old defender, there is an abundance of teams that could surely use a player like Jake Gardiner placed on their blue-line.
In Toronto, Gardiner has been the biggest punching bag for many Leafs fans. He has been blamed for many things during his time spent in Toronto, the list including the Maple Leafs two most recent postseason exits.
Things looked big for the Canadiens when they submitted an offer sheet for Carolina Hurricanes star Sebastian Aho. Since the offer sheet was matched, however, it has been rather quiet for the Canadiens in Montreal. Many expected the Canadiens to offer sheet another big name after the Aho offer sheet was matched but no such offer sheet has materialized as of now. The Habs biggest move so far was singing defensemen Ben Chariot to a three-year, $3.5 million contract. While Chairot may have been a decent depth signing, the Habs defencive issues are not fixed with the addition of Chariot.
The Canadiens have a surplus of depth players that are bottom-pair NHL’ers and top-pair AHL’ers, especially on the blue-line. Although this may be the case, they could easily make room if a defender like Gardiner joined the team. Currently, the Habs lack the cap space necessary to sign Gardiner having just over $4 million.
Once they burry contracts in the AHL, they would have the cap required to bring Jake Gardiner to Montreal. Some question the merit of the Habs bringing on Jake Gardiner based on the fact that they have skilled young defenders that will join the roster as soon as the upcoming season. In addition, many stars on the roster are going to be needing expensive new contracts in the coming years and signing Gardiner would require cap space that would be needed to sign core players in the coming years.
Although this may be the case, the Canadiens need to add another star to their roster if they want to have a legitimate chance at competing for a playoff spot this season. The Atlantic division has emerged as the toughest in the league as the Bruins, Lighting, Leafs and now the Panthers and Sabres are legitimate playoff contenders.
If the Canadiens are serious about contending for the playoffs this season, signing Jake Gardiner would be a great way to see that vision come true.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders surprised the NHL this season with their success after losing their franchise player in Canadian centreman John Tavares. Some people call their season a fluke or luck and if they want to do it again, they need to add some reinforcements. They locked up their captain after almost losing him in free agency and they signed Brock Nelson to a contract extension as well.
While their offence could surely use some improvements, their defence could as well and there are not too many highly-skilled forwards available in free agency. The Islanders have $8,653,334 in cap space, but still have three restricted free agents left to sign in Anthony Beauvillier, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang. Out of those three names, only Beauvillier is a pretty much a guarantee to re-sign. The Islanders would likely have enough cap space to offer Jake Gardiner a contract and could send down a defensemen in order to add some additional cap space.
Nick Leddy has been rumoured to be on the block for the Islanders for quite some time now. By signing Gardiner, the Islanders blue-line could sustain a Leddy trade without completely ruining the formation. Although it would be ideal to have both Leddy and Gardiner on the roster, the Islanders have multiple defensive prospects who are close to cracking the NHL including Noah Dobson and Bode Wilde.
By trading Leddy and signing Gardiner, the Islanders could trade Leddy for some additional help for the present or for the future and replace him with Jake Gardiner without having to give up anything. Essentially they could be trading Leddy in exchange for Gardiner plus whatever comes out of a potential Leddy trade.
While the attention in Colorado appears to be entered around Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche have enough cap space to set aside to add another star in their pursuit for the Stanley Cup. After trading away Tyson Barrie, Colorado’s defence could significantly benefit from the use of a new addition. The Avalanche have a solid group of young defensemen in their prospect pool, especially with the addition of Bowen Byram at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Although the future looks promising in another year or two, the Avalanche would benefit from adding a reliable, skilled veteran who could come in right away and help the team push for a deep playoff run. Although Cal Makar is set to join the roster full time next season, the added experience of defensemen Jake Gardiner would significantly benefit the team for the upcoming season. Colorado currently has $16,465,239 in cap space and Mikko Rantanen is the team’s biggest priority. Even if they sign Rantanen to a $10 million contract, they would likely still have enough money to set aside to sign Jake Gardiner.