Would the Leafs trade Jake Gardiner?

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A great skater who put up 30 points in his rookie season, 23-year-old defenseman Jake Gardiner is a tantalizing talent. And according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to trade him.

“I think there’s a better chance of him getting traded, just because of the continued interest,” Dreger said this morning on TSN 1050 radio (audio). “At some point, I think that Toronto’s needs are going to equal what teams are going to be willing to pay.

“Since the start of the season until now, the asking price has been very high, and we know what it is – it’s a top-six forward.

“But I think [general manager] Dave Nonis would also consider a flip of defense. It’s going to have to be a quality defenseman, because if he’s considering trading Jake Gardiner, then he needs something very, very good in return.”

One team that Dreger knows has interest is the New York Rangers. (Though apparently general manager Glen Sather may covet Cody Franson more, if only because Franson shoots right and Gardiner shoots left.)

Assuming Toronto re-signs captain Dion Phaneuf (not guaranteed, but reportedly headed that way), it’s possible that Nonis could deem Gardiner expendable, particularly with 19-year-old Morgan Rielly showing a lot of promise in his rookie season.

But Gardiner has a lot of fans, particularly among the proponents of the so-called “advanced stats,” who point to his strong possession numbers, at least compared to the rest of his teammates.

Per CapGeek, here’s what the Leafs’ blue-line looks like right now:

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Related: Gardiner could provide differing opinions in Leafs organization