Being from the Toronto area, my Facebook feed blew up when the Boston Bruins eliminated the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs.
The posts ranged from blaming the refs to people expressing their lack of surprise. But by far, the most posts were blaming long-time blueliner, Jake Gardiner.
Yeah, he had a bad game and he even admitted it to the Toronto press but to put the defeat solely at his feet is not just unfair, it’s wrong.
He was -5 in game 7 and had only two assists in the seven games he played in the post-season, but it could be argued that the Leafs would not have made it to the playoffs without the help of the Minnesotan native during the regular season. He played every single game and contributed to 52 goals, five of them his own.
During post-game and locker clean out interviews, many Leaf players such as Vancouverite Morgan Reilly, Tyler Bozak and a host of other players defended Gardiner and were upset with how he has been treated by the media and the fans.
Hockey is a team sport. How come no one is singling out centre Nazem Kadri for his three-game suspension? Why is Austin Matthews getting very little flak for his uninspired play?
The truth is, the Leafs never really had a chance. The team is still on the young side, with the majority of them such as Matthews, Mitch Marner and Connor Brown having next to no NHL playoff experience. Even Kadri and Gardiner who have been with the team for seven or more seasons have a very limited exposure to the playoffs.
Leafs fans should be happy they made the playoffs two years in a row and are emerging as one of the premier teams in the league. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Gardiner has been a scapegoat for the Leafs in the seven seasons he’s been on the payroll and is just shy of reaching 500 games played and will turn 28 this summer. With one year left on his contract, it’s hard to say what his future with the franchise is but fans and whoever replaces Lou Lamoriello as general manager shouldn’t pull the trigger without thinking about it first. Afterall, Ontario’s favourite team has a history of trading away players who become great players such as Phil Kessel and Larry Murphy.
Boston, on the other hand, is emerging as a force to be reckoned with. They have three players in the top ten scorers list for the playoffs, including David Pastrnak who is tied with 17 points with Jake Guentzel of the Pittsburgh Penguins (as of April 30).