Into The 2019 NHL Unrestricted Free Agent Class: Jake Gardiner
Taking a closer look at free agent defenseman Jake Gardiner and what he might expect on his next deal.

Jake Gardiner is the best left handed defenseman on the free agent market. He’s an unrestricted free agent and is coming off of a 5 year contract, worth $20.25 million USD (an AAV of $4.050 mil USD).

Gardiner has been part of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization since February of 2011. The Anaheim Ducks were the organization who drafted Gardiner and decided to package him in a deal with Joffrey Lupul, so they could acquire François Beauchemin.

Gardiner first played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2011-12 regular season. From the get-go, the Minneapolis, Minnesota native looked quite impressive. His play in the offensive zone hasn’t gone unnoticed. While he isn’t a number one power-play quarterback, he’s a great number two and has proven to be an asset for Mike Babcock’s power-play.

Unfortunately, there are times where Gardiner frustrates fans. Maple Leafs fans have declared many times over the years that Gardiner looks like a smaller version of Dion Phaneuf. Gardiner makes mistakes in the neutral zone and ends up coughing up the puck, which has hurt his image in Toronto.

Jake Gardiner contract year for the Toronto Maple Leafs

Unfortunately, Gardiner had missed 20 games down the stretch this past season. He was out for a decent amount of time with a back injury. It came at an awful time for the Maple Leafs as they had a few other injuries on the blue-line. But, Gardiner made it back to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup prior to round one against the Boston Bruins.

In terms of Gardiner’s stats, he faired pretty well. In 62 games played, he tallied 3 goals, 27 assists, 5 power-play points, 3.8 shooting percentage, 21:13 average time on ice, 64 blocks, 25 take-aways, 53 give-aways, 52.2 corsi-for percentage and a 50.4 fenwick-for percentage. His give-away numbers had dropped considerably from the season prior, which was good to see, but there were some other issues for Gardiner. Gardiner’s offensive production declined. This past season, Gardiner was far less impressive on the power-play than he has in the past.

Yet, the blame shouldn’t be on Gardiner. The Toronto Maple Leafs power-play was atrocious at times throughout the regular season. While the Maple Leafs didn’t come out and explain what had caused the special teams issues, general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Mike Babcock came to the consensus that the former assistant coach Jim Hiller (who was the power-play architect) needed to be replaced. Without a strong power-play visionary behind the bench, Gardiner and his teammates were bound to suffer.

What a new contract for Jake Gardiner could look like

With the salary cap going up and Gardiner being the top UFA defenseman on the market, the Minneapolis native is in a great spot to cash out and make a bundle.

Recently, EvolvingWild, a contributor to HockeyGraphs, posted contract projections for several UFAs and RFAs. In their projections, they determined that Gardiner would likely receive a 7 year deal with a projected cap hit of 6.820 million.

But, the market has been a tad fickle. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen teams sign their free agents to high deals. The San Jose Sharks signed Erik Karlsson to an eight-year deal with an $11.5 million cap hit. Prior to Karlsson’s eight-year deal, EvolvingWild had projected the Swedish defenseman to sign an eight-year deal with $9.72 million.

In addition, we’ve seen defensemen such as Esa Lindell of the Dallas Stars, Alex Edler of the Vancouver Canucks, Carl Gunnarsson of the St. Louis Blues, Mike Reilly of the Montréal Canadiens, Roman Polak of the Stars and Travis Sanheim of the Philadelphia Flyers beat their projected salary numbers. Given how the market is changing, you can assume that Gardiner could/will beat his projected numbers and could sign a deal for $7 million+.

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