Should the Detroit Red Wings Trade For Jake Gardiner?


News broke this morning from TSN’s Darren Dregger that ‘implied’ Toronto Maple Leafs Defensemen Jake Gardiner may be available for trade. This of course is news that would catch the eye of any Red Wings fan, for their team sorely needs another capable defensemen to become a real contender. Would Gardiner be the answer the Wings are looking for? Or is he about as likely to work wearing the winged wheel as Darien Hatcher? After patting myself on the back for that wonderful use of alliteration, let’s look at the facts about Gardiner. (and thanks to our editor Peter Fish, a photoshop!)

By: Peter Fish

A good American from Minnesota, Jake Gardiner was drafted by Anaheim in the first round, but traded to Toronto as a part of their deal for Francois Beacuchemin.  Standing at 6’ 2” and weighting in a 193 pounds, Gardiner isn’t a huge player, and like every other Red Wings defenseman, he shoots left. You might remember him from Team USA’s gold medal in the World Junior Championship of 2010! Gardiner had 31 points in 80 games for the Leafs last year, and while he’s no playoff rookie, he doesn’t have a tremendous amount of experience in the post-season either, dressing for six playoff games in 2013. The former Wisconsin Badger is also in the first year of a 5-year contract that carries a cap hit of just over $4 million.

Gardiner’s value lies not necessarily in his ability today so much as tomorrow’s potential. He hasn’t done too much for the Leafs this year, with 8 points in 31 games and he’s a -12 so far this season (flawed stat though it may be). However, defense is a difficult position to learn in the NHL. Where a forward may enter his prime in his early 20s, it isn’t unusual for a defenseman to be his best until his late 20s. Gardiner is 24 and hasn’t been too awfully impressive so far this year. If I can figure out that Gardiner has potential, however Dave Nonis has to know he does too, and probably doesn’t want to be known as the guy that traded away the next Zdeno Chara. (I use him as an example because Mike Milbury traded him from the Islanders when Chara was 24. The next year Chara was an all-star and he would eventually win a Norris Trophy).

The Maple Leafs are sure to want their money’s worth for Gardiner, and will likely expect a king’s ransom from a divisional rival like Detroit. Teams aren’t likely to make trades with someone in their own division simply because anything they offer a divisional rival is going to be used against them often, and they are potentially shooting themselves in the foot. A highly-touted prospect like Teemu Pulkkinen, Dylan Larkin, or (dare I say it?) Anthony Mantha is likely to be the starting point. The Leafs might also be interested in a defensive prospect such as Xavier Ouellet or Ryan Sproul. The Red Wings may be expected to throw in a draft pick, as well as Brian Lashoff or Jakub Kindl for the sake of cap space/roster space (Similar to Nashville taking Patrick Eaves as a part of the David Legwand deal).

Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This kind of deal would seem problematic to me for a number of reasons. I don’t like the idea of parting with one of Detroit’s blue-chip prospects, especially for someone like Gardiner that carries some risk, arguably more risk that one of the listed forwards above. I especially don’t like the idea of playing against Mantha or whoever ends up as a part of this trade five or six times every season. Speaking of prospects, Detroit has a real log jam of defensive prospects that could be considered NHL ready. Adding another defenseman on top of this that’s signed through 2019 makes this log jam even worse. Unless Detroit decides they want to use these prospects as trade bait and just go all in for a cup run in the next year or two (not the worse idea but you have to commit to it) a move like this could really hurt the development of the Wings’ defensive prospects. Considering the Red Wings already lost defensive prospect Adam Almquist, who opted to go to the KHL and recently Mattias Backman got too frustrated with being a healthy scratch and returned to Sweden.  Ken Holland is likely already tired of losing prospects for nothing, and acquiring Gardiner would make this problem far worse. (Thank you Michelle for helping me remember which prospects decided to back to the across the pond).

While there’s a lot of value in Jake Gardiner, I’m not so sure it would be the right move for the Red Wings. Between giving up a forward and enraging defensive prospects, it could almost do more harm than good. When I look at the Red Wings’ roster, I don’t find myself saying “they’re a Jake Gardiner away from being a cup contender” so it seems like it could be short sighted. But if the Wings got Gardiner and held on to him, you could do a lot worse for a second-pairing, eventual first-pairing defenseman. And how fun would it be to see Mike Babcock pulling his hair out for yet another defenseman who shoots left?