Mike Babcock once said, “The bottom line is, the game’s real simple. The more time you spend in your zone, the less time you spend in their zone, the more time you dump the puck because you got no speed on the rush. If you’re efficient coming out and move the puck and you do it right, you’re coming with speed. You don’t have to dump the puck, you probably get some sort of entry, or at least you give up possession and get it right back.”
No doubt, that philosophy is a big reason the Maple Leafs’ new coach believes defenseman Jake Gardiner can be an important player in Toronto.
“Everyone talks about Morgan Rielly and everyone knows that he has elite upside (as an) offensive guy,” Babcock told the Canadian Press. “But Gardiner, when I watch him, I think he should be a good player. So let’s build him up, let’s get him going, let’s get him playing good.”
Gardiner, 25, is an excellent skater who had a career-high 31 points in 2013-14.
What he’s not is punishing in the corners or around his own net. Add some “very erratic” play to the equation and he often found himself in former coach Randy Carlyle’s doghouse.
With Babcock, it sounds like Gardiner will get a great chance to show that his positives outweigh his negatives. In fact, he’s expected to be paired with Rielly for at least part of the preseason.
Gardiner is signed though 2018-19 for a cap hit of just over $4 million.