We are roughly four weeks into NHL free agency and defenceman Jake Gardiner is still without a home. Be it concern surrounding his health and/or the want for a contract at a healthy number with term, something is up with the former Toronto Maple Leafs rearguard. With that said, this would be the perfect time for the Edmonton Oilers to try and sign the talented blueliner.
Chances are, if that big-ticket/long term deal was out there, Gardiner would have signed it long ago and be doing other things with his summer. With a price tag of roughly $4 million over the past five years, cashing in was priority one. And after watching Tyler Myers sign a five year/$30 million pact with the Vancouver Canucks, one would have thought his pot of gold was just around the corner and yet here we are.
Gardiner Looking for Big Pay Day
Call me crazy but with the Oilers currently sitting at just over $2.4 million in cap space, Ken Holland has an opportunity to reach out and see if Gardiner has interest in signing on a one-year deal. If the answer to that question was yes, Edmonton would have to create somewhere in the neighbourhood of $5 million under the cap to have a shot at making it happen.
That would leave the organization $6 million to offer Gardiner and close to $1.5 million to do with what they will down the road. Yes, roughly $1 million of those dollars could be headed the way of goaltender Mike Smith in incentives but the club will also gain an extra $1 million in space when they bury Brandon Manning’s contract in Bakersfield but that is a discussion for a different day.
This brings us back to the $5 million in space Holland would have to find. By adding a top-flight defenceman into the mix, it would only make sense to look at the Oilers backend and see where a change could be made. The obvious target would be Kris Russell and the other would be Matt Benning. One is in the back half of his career and the other is just starting to find his way at the NHL level.
Oilers Could Create More Cap Space
Combined the two make-up for a cap hit of $5.9 million, (Russell has two years at $4 million per remaining and Benning one at $1.9 million), and the removal of both would not only open up a spot for Gardiner but also clear a path for the likes of Caleb Jones and Joel Persson for the upcoming season. Now the trick becomes making said deals happen but that is a separate discussion, albeit one that is connected and likely cost an asset or two.
Point being, if Gardiner had a genuine interest in signing, the Oilers could make it happen and the roster would be markedly improved from what we saw in 2018-19. From an organizational standpoint, the risk would be minimal but the potential payoff could be well worth it. No question, this lineup has its issues but this kind of move should make them a playoff team.
Related: Joel Persson: Oilers Puzzle Piece
From the player’s perspective, not getting a long-term deal would be frustrating but on a one-year pact, Gardiner would be hard-pressed to find a better landing spot. The Minneapolis native would instantly become the Oilers No. 1 option at the point on the power play and something tells me he would be setting new career highs across the board playing alongside Connor McDavid and company.
The Connor McDavid Effect
Not exactly a bad thing to have on one’s resume heading into next summer’s free agency. The move would also help Gardiner put some distance between himself and his recent playoff struggles with the Maple Leafs. Again, far from ideal but on a “bank on yourself” kind of move, Edmonton seems like a darn good fit.
Now there are some who suggest the reason the 29-year old has yet to sign is due to his desire to stay in Toronto and if that were the case, it would be understandable. The Maple Leafs roster is stacked and while they did upgrade their defence by acquiring Tyson Barrie, one can make the argument against it being any better with Gardiner gone. Add him back into the equation and that instantly changes.
Problem being, the Maple Leafs have a guy by the name of Mitch Marner who they need to sign and fit under their cap. Also, let’s not forget that Toronto will use both Barrie and Morgan Rielly ahead of Gardiner on the man advantage, which would make a reunion less than ideal for both sides. As the team would be paying for more than the potential ask and the player would be used in a lesser role than he desires.
A tough situation to be sure, which should make the potential of signing for one-year to play with the Edmonton Oilers all the more attractive for Jake Gardiner to consider. Is it too farfetched? In my mind, it is not and if the interest is there, Ken Holland should do his best to make it happen.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.