Jake Gardiner Free’d; Will Play Tonight for the Toronto Maple Leafs
By Tony Ambrogio (@SNTonyAmbrogio)
As Mike Komisarek walked into the room, he saw the large media scrum surrounding defenseman Jake Gardiner and said, “Jake Gardiner is free!”
A week after his agent sent out a #FreeJakeGardiner tweet, the Toronto Maple Leafs called up the defenseman who will play tonight against Tampa Bay.
“He did an excellent job,” Leafs Coach Randy Carlyle said when asked how Gardiner handled his time in the American Hockey League. “We just felt Jake had played very well in the last 10 days.”
Korbinian Holzer was sent down to the minors to make room for Gardiner, who had 30 points in 75 games with the Maple Leafs last season as a 21 year-old.
But a concussion in the American Hockey League in December kept him off the ice for several weeks. When he played a couple of games with the Leafs in January, Carlyle and Leafs management didn’t like what they were seeing.
So Gardiner went down to the Marlies and over the last few weeks he started to show the dominant form he flashed his rookie season.
Gardiner tried to distance himself from his agent’s tweet, and he said playing for Marlies coach Dallas Eakins “awesome.”
But there was no doubt he wanted to be with the Leafs and on Tuesday morning, he called General Manager to discuss his future with the team. He wasn’t aware the Leafs had been thinking of bringing him up.
“It was a great call,” said Gardiner, who would be recalled by the Leafs hours later. “I just kind of wanted to get a more clear picture of things where they stood.”
It was clear the Leafs view Gardiner as a key player for the Leafs now and going forward. That was news Gardiner wanted to hear.
“I feel like I’ve definitely gotten better the last few games,” said Gardiner, who had 31 points in 43 games in the American Hockey League this season. “I have a long way to go to where I want to be.”
“Is Jake Gardiner going to be our saviour? That’s a label that we have to guard against,” said Carlyle. “We want Jake Gardiner to come in and be Jake Gardiner.”
Look for Gardiner to play left defense and to be paired up initially with John-Michael Liles. And look for Gardiner to be a key figure on the power-play and expect Gardiner to be able to move the puck quickly to the forwards.
It has been a problem during this 5 game winless streak and Gardiner should help in that area.
Meantime, the Leafs placed defenceman Mike Komisarek on waivers. He had been a healthy scratch in 25 straight games.
Komisarek agreed to waive his no trade clause, and if he is not claimed, will report to the Marlies.
Komisarek has handled his benching with class. Now he will get a chance to show he can still play at a high level in the American Hockey League.
Wade Redden and Sheldon Souray have thrived after teams gave up on them and played in the AHL. Komisarek (who earns $4.5M this year and next) will look to follow in their footsteps.