The Toronto Maple Leafs rounded off the final touches on resigning their RFAs Tuesday evening after signing puck-moving defenseman Jake Gardiner to a five-year, $20.25 million contract.
Gardiner was second to only captain Dion Phaneuf in average ice-time last season for the Leafs and is coming off a season where he notched 10 goals and 31 points in 80 games.
An average value of $4.05 million a season is a bit of a gamble for a young defenseman who has been often criticized for his play in his own end, but with Gardiner’s raw skill and ability to provide the Buds with some offence from the back end, this deal is an absolute no brainer.
The Leafs now have three young, talented, offensive defenseman in Cody Franson, Morgan Rielly and Gardiner, the latter are considered to be two of the best defensive prospects the organization has had in quite some time. If the Leafs are looking to make the playoffs for the second time in the last ten years, it’s time that these blue-chip prospects take the next step in their development in becoming legitimate NHL defensemen.
Barring any surprises in training camp, the Leafs will be heading into next season with Phaneuf, Gardiner, Franson, Rielly, Roman Polak and Stephane Robidas as their six defenseman. In a significantly weaker Eastern Conference, these six could get the Buds blooming in spring.