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Maybe it's time we start appreciating Jake Gardiner


Okay Leafs fans... stay calm, lower your weapons. We don't need to fight about this, I just wanna talk to you for a second.

I get it, there are two sides to the Jake Gardiner war in Leaf land. The one side that thinks he's as useless as a knitted condom, and the other side that think he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. I myself, lie somewhere in the middle of the argument, closer towards the sliced bread idea. Now for those of you who aren't, you're probably exactly like my father, meaning I know exactly what you're going to say.

If I can't change your mind then so be it. But I really believe that Jake takes a lot more flack than he needs to, simply based on the fact that fans use the eye test as their main source of reason. Once he does something wrong, it's already in your head and he can do no right for the rest of his life (everyone remembers game seven right?).

Look... I get it, he can be one of the most frustrating players on the entire Leafs roster. I've seen him make some plays that have me questioning how I didn't go further in hockey (don't worry, those thoughts don't last long). I've also seen him make some plays that make me cover my mouth in awe based on the raw talent that he possesses. Most of those plays come on the offensive side of the ice.

If you ever try to tell me that Jake Gardiner isn't one of the better offensive defencemen in the league, then you're flat out wrong. Don't believe me? take a look at these stat lines comparing Jake to one of his fellow teammates.

Player B, as I have represented him here, is a winger with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He does score more goals given that he is up front and has a much better chance of doing so. He also has significantly less assists, and nearly identical points numbers, a little more shocking given their positions.

What I find incredible from the comparison, is the fact that Jake has managed to pull off a slightly better plus minus, and taken fewer penalties, as a defenceman who averages over five minutes more per night than Player B.

So who is Player B? If you haven't already left to find out then I'm proud of you, but Player B happens to be a winger that leaf fans have been going wild about this season. He's earned it, considering that at such a young age he's on pace for nearly 30 goals and has blown people's expectations out of the water.

Just tell you already? Fine. Player B is, drum roll please... Kasperi Kapanen. Yes, the electrifying young stud, that people have been raving about this season. has almost as many points as defenceman Jake Gardiner.

"But all he ever does is turn the puck over!" yelled the drunk uncle at everybody's family dinner. There's a crazy thing about the sport of hockey... EVERYBODY TURNS THE PUCK OVER!!!!!!! Does Jake do it at some inopportune times? Absolutely. But without going to look it up could you tell me who the top three leaders in turnovers by defenceman are this season? Anybody? Don't worry, I got it. In order, the names are Drew Doughty, Mike Matheson (yeah the guy that took out Pettersson), and Brent Burns.

"What, that can't be right, two of the last three Norris trophy winners are on that list." Funny how that works isn't it? A defenceman can be both great, AND turn the puck over all at the same. The only thing a high turnover rate shows is that the player handles the puck a lot. If you handle the puck enough, you're bound to give it away a time or two.

If you're still trying to use this argument, let me take it back home to the Leafs with another comparison. Here's Gardiner matched up with another defenceman on the team.

For the record, this is one of my favourite visuals. I'd just like to say that I am a huge fan of Player A and this is NOT a knock on him by any means, but a testament to how stupid this argument truly is against Jake.

For those of you that don't fully understand how to read those stats I'll break it down for you. Both players have played 40 games, meaning their sample size is exactly the same this season. Gardiner has given the puck away to the other team 37 times this season, whereas Player A has given the puck away a whopping 51 times (good for sixth in the league). On the flip side, Player A has done a better job of taking away passes from the other team, outnumbering Jake 37 to 21 in that category.

For those of you that don't want to do the math, Jake has given the puck away 16 more times than he has taken it away, and Player A has done the same thing 14 times. This is essentially an identical differential, with less than 50 seconds per game (basically one shift) seperating them per game.

This is where things get interesting. Player A is having what a lot of people could consider an award winning season when all is said and done. He has exploded this year for one of his best performances of his career. If you haven't caught on already, Player A is Morgan Rielly.

That's right, Toronto's "elite defenceman" is actually significantly worse at turning the puck over than Jake Gardiner. As I mentioned before, I think Morgan Rielly is fantastic, and he would be a number one D man on almost every team in the NHL. On the flip side, you can't complain about Jake's turnovers, when Captain Morgan's are even worse.

So yes, Jake turns the puck over. But as I've already established, all the great puck moving defencemen in the league are in the same boat. So unless Jake has hurt you on some deeper, personal level, then you don't have much of an argument against him.

I'll be the first to say that I don't know a lot of the advanced metrics stats. For the select few that do, I'm sure you could put up all sorts of arguments against me. However, for those of you that are like me, then let's put this fight to rest. Is Jake Gardiner a perennial all star? No. But next time you watch a game, I want you to remember everything I've shown you today. Then, I want you to watch all the incredible things he does with the puck when he doesn't turn it over... He might just surprise you.

*all stats courtesy of TSN

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