Ask any Toronto Maple Leafs fan how they might describe defenceman Jake Gardiner and there’s one word that you’ll hear across the board: unpredictable.
The smooth skating, offensive-minded Gardiner is, at the best of times, shifty and elusive. At the worst of times however, he can be downright sloppy. The unpredictable nature of Gardiner’s game means that he’s prone to turnovers and missed checks just as often as it means he’s prone to highlight reel plays. Most nights, Gardiner makes the highlight reel at both ends of the ice and because of this he has received his fair share of criticism from Leafs fans.
With the disdain for Gardiner so prevalent amongst the Leafs fanbase, how do his teammates feel about his unpredictable play?
“You never know what he is doing … he is really good at that,” superstar Auston Matthews said with a smile. “Sometimes you don’t know exactly what he is going to do."
“He is really effective," continued Matthews. "He can make plays offensively, defensively, he’s good at reading the play and anticipating.”
A hint of sarcasm in those words? Maybe. But head coach Mike Babcock is clearly a fan of Gardiner:
Surprising words from the head coach, but of course we don't know what kinds of discussions Babcock and Gardiner are having behind closed doors. For all we know, Babcock's praise is merely a smoke screen to protect one of his young players from unwarranted media attention. Then again, more and more of Gardiner's teammates were signing his praises, even after a 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche last night. A loss in which Gardiner admits he played, "up and down."
Count Mitch Marner as another Gardiner fan, however:
Maybe it's because of his silky smooth passes, like this one from Saturday's victory over the Ottawa Senators? Gardiner sent Marner in alone on Sens goaltender Craig Anderson with this sneaky play:
Regardless of how we feel about Gardiner, it doesn't appear like the 27-year-old blue liner is going anywhere. He has the full trust of his coaches and teammates, even if he can't win over the Leafs fanbase. Disdain hasn't reached "Larry Murphy like" levels, but maybe it's time we drop any expectation that Gardiner play a sound defensive game? Maybe we consider him a rover who merely lines up at defence for faceoffs?