Two nights ago Ben Hankinson, agent of Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner spoke out on Twitter with the bold statement #freejakegardiner. Many Leafs fans agree with Hankinsons’ words. The highly anticipated sophomore season of the young American defenseman has been spent down in the American Hockey League causing many eager fans to wonder why he is not up playing with the big club.
A member of last season’s NHL All Rookie Team, Jake Gardiner has many of the necessary tools to be become an impact player for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s a smooth skating, puck moving defenseman with an offensive side. Gardiner has a cool 30 points in 40 games this season with Toronto’s AHL affiliate the Marlies.
Why isn’t Gardiner playing with the Leafs? Only Leafs management and coaching staff know the real answer. It is obvious that it’s not because he lacks experience. The Leafs two most experienced NHL defensemen Mike Komisarek and John Michael Liles are both spending regular time in the press box. Also, rookie defensemen Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer have played less career games compiling 22 and 27 respectively.
Perhaps Carlyle doesn’t fancy Gardiner in his top six. This could be true. It’s very hard to question the decisions made about defenseman by a former Norris Trophy winner and Stanley Cup winning coach, but many members of Leafs Nation would be happy to try. For a team that has done very little for a very long time, Jake Gardiner has become a sign of hope. Finally a young player that shows legitimate promise in a Leafs uniform. In his rookie campaign last year Gardiner became a player the average Leafs fan actually enjoyed watching and cheering for after suffering through so many terrible lineups in recent years. Leafs fans want to watch Jake Gardiner.
The Leafs are in the midst of their first losing streak this season which has amplified the cries for Jake Gardiner to be recalled. They will face the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight in an important game with massive playoff implications for the Buds. The longer this slide becomes the louder the #freejakegardiner chants will get.