Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Gardiner, Kerfoot, Rielly, Schmaltz

While Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has been negotiating with Mitch Marner about a contract, a number of other team members have been the subject of rumors and news. The team’s roster is far from finalized; however, a number of important pieces have been added. Still others remain in limbo, unsigned and still seeking finalized contracts.

Related: Should the Maple Leafs Sign Phaneuf?

In this post, I will try to pull together a number of the news and rumors that I have been hearing.

Item One: Might Jake Gardiner Actually Stay in Toronto?

Is it possible that Jake Gardiner’s days are not yet over with the Maple Leafs? Elliotte Friedman believes that free agent Gardiner, because of the back issues that hindered his play towards the end of last season, might be forced to sign a one-year deal as a way to re-establish his market value. If he were healthy, he’d be likely to sign something in the neighborhood of a $7-million per season, long-term contract. Too bad for him, his play was limited toward the end of the season and teams are unsure of his health.

Jake Gardiner
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner keeps the puck away from Boston Bruins center Brad Marchand (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Although there’s a chance he might return to the Maple Leafs, to me that doesn’t seem to be his best option. Given the team’s recent trade for Tyson Barrie (and their continuing contracts with both Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin), the defense is more solid than it has been in recent years. Were Gardiner to sign with the team, there’s a chance he wouldn’t even play in the top two defensive pairings. If that were the case, would he be able to score enough to sign a high-end contract? I’m thinking probably not.

I have already gone on record suggesting that Gardiner won’t return to the Maple Leafs even if he could because of the poor treatment he suffered at the hands of the Maple Leafs fans last season. However, Editor in Leaf hockey commentator Nick Barden offers a completely different view of the situation.

Barden believes that Gardiner “loves playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The fans, the team, the amenities, the history – all of it. It’s like his home away from home. Yes, there are people who hate the way he plays and how often he gives up the puck. But, after his back injury last season, you could tell that he was a big part of their success.”

Barden might have better insight than I do, but that wouldn’t be my take. However, I’m surprised that a team with sufficient salary-cap space hasn’t taken a chance on Gardiner yet. He’s about the best free-agent defenseman (on paper) remaining to be signed.

Related: Maple Leafs Trade Rumors: Marner, Kadri, Zaitsev, Marleau & More

Gardiner would likely have to sign for a discount to even have a chance to play one more season with the Maple Leafs. No matter how much the specific salary numbers are, it seems unlikely Gardiner signs with the Maple Leafs because there simply won’t be salary cap space remaining.

I believe Gardiner would be a good pick-up for a team looking for a puck-moving defenseman who can join the rush, put the puck on a teammate’s stick, and even shoot on net. Sadly, for Gardiner (and I’m guessing here), one of those teams will not be the Minnesota Wild.

Toronto Maple Leafs Jake Gardiner

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Although Gardiner’s family lives less than 30 minutes from where the Minnesota Wild play, the Wild seem happy enough with the defensemen they have on signed contracts and might not be interested in Gardiner for any reasonable price.

As Barden suggests in his post, Gardiner might be comfortable with the Maple Leafs and might feel the team has a chance to win the Stanley Cup, which in itself might be a reason to take a discount to stay for one more season. We’ll see what happens.

Item Two: Kerfoot Has Rielly to Help Him Adjust to Toronto

There’s no doubt that Alexander Kerfoot will find playing in Toronto different than playing in Denver. As great as a city as Denver is, it isn’t a hotbed of hockey like Toronto is. Often it takes NHL players new to the Maple Leafs time to get used to the scrutiny Maple Leafs fans put on players who wear the Blue and White.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot: What Should Fans Know?

However, Kerfoot has one advantage. That advantage is Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly who, like Kerfoot, is from Vancouver and who has actually known Kerfoot since they were kids. That relationship has to help the new Maple Leafs winger gain a better sense of what playing in Toronto will be like.

Kerfoot and Rielly grew up playing in the same minor hockey association in the Vancouver area and remain close friends and off-season training partners. In talking about Rielly, Kerfoot noted that “Both of our dads went to school together, we grew up in the same area so the families are close.”

Colorado Avalanche Alexander Kerfoot and Florida Panthers Aaron Ekblad
Former Colorado Avalanche center Alexander Kerfoot and Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Kerfoot will have to learn by himself that the spotlight is much brighter in Toronto than perhaps in any other NHL city. He didn’t think one could “really prepare for the market until you get here.” How will he react? As Kerfoot’s answered, “I’ll just try to embrace it.”

It also doesn’t hurt that he came with a highly-supportive teammate in Barrie, who’s done nothing but praise Kerfoot since he landed in the Toronto area. In addition to Rielly, Kerfoot also is Barrie’s off-season training partner.

Kerfoot’s final note about Rielly is that, “It’ll be pretty cool to play with him.”

Item Three: Maple Leafs Trade Defensemen with the St. Louis Blues

The Toronto Maple Leafs traded Swedish defenseman Andreas Borgman to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman Jordan Schmaltz.

The 25-year-old Schmaltz played in 20 regular-season games with the Blues last season and in 36 games with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage. The 24-year-old Borgman played 45 games with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies last season, but also played 48 games with the Maple Leafs during the 2017-18 season.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Nikita Zaitsev Calls Don Cherry a Clown: Is He Right?

What’s Next?

There’s one final piece to the Maple Leafs puzzle – Marner. When might he sign with the team, or elsewhere? That’s what most Maple Leafs fans are waiting for.

Count me in, as well. One thing seems certain, Dubas is turning the club inside out trying to create the space so that signing Marner might happen.