The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Jake Gardiner to a five-year extension worth $20.25 million. A two-year deal worth anywhere from $2.25 million to $3 million per season were what was expected for the 24-year-old defenseman. 

Gardiner was taken 17th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008 and the Maple Leafs acquired him along with Joffrey Lupul for Francois Beauchemin in the summer of 2011. He is praised for his skating ability, speed and his ability to carry the puck. He is offensively gifted and has work to do on the defensive side of the ice but often his skating ability makes up for many of his mistakes. 

Gardiner averaged 21:05 of ice time per game last season and averaged 2:17 of power play time. His power play minutes could see a slight rise this upcoming season, but they are at the very least expected to stay around that mark. 

Gardiner’s contract carries an annual average salary of $4.050,000 million. While this seems like a huge number it may not be as bad as it looks. Gardiner recorded career highs in goals (10) and points (31) last season. In each of his full seasons he recorded 30+ points and would have been on pace for just under 28 points in his sophomore season if it weren’t for the lockout and a concussion that limited him to 12 games. 

Earning $4.05 million per season over five years is fair value and does involve slight risk compared to a two-year bridge deal. A bridge deal would allow the Leafs to continue to assess Gardiner and offer him a new deal based upon his performance after two seasons. If he were to excel, the Leafs would be required to throw more money at Gardiner’s next contract. If he were to not live up to expectations then the Leafs wouldn’t be stuck with a player eating up over $4 million of cap space. The one thing the Leafs have in their favor for Gardiner’s contract is that it does not include any kind of no trade clause. So if they think that he isn’t a fit or worth his contract after a couple years they can trade him. 

A good comparison of a player who received a similar deal is Slava Voynov. Voynov is a similar player to Gardiner. He is a smaller defenseman, is a good puck mover and stronger on the offensive side of the game than he is defensively.  Voynov’s stats are almost identical to Gardiner’s from last season. 

Player | Games | Goals | Points | Points/Game | Shots | Ice Time |
Gardiner | 80 | 10 | 31 | 0.39 | 136 | 21:04 |
Voynov | 82 | 4 | 34 | 0.41 | 143 | 22:17 |

Last summer, Voynov signed a six-year, $25 million dollar extension with Los Angeles that pays him an average of $4.166,667 per year. If I were to choose between the two players, I would pick Gardiner. He is a stronger offensive player and much better skater than Voynov. 

There is talk of Gardiner moving up to the top pair to play with Dion Phaneuf after Carl Gunnarson was traded to St Louis. Gardiner is a left handed shot so he would fit well in that spot however Phaneuf is a left hades shot as well who has been forced to play on the right side in past seasons due to a lack of left handed defensemen. It’s unclear if Phaneuf will move back to the left side if that is the case then Stephan Robidas may be on the top line with him. There will be lots of line juggling to do for Randy Carlyle on defense but we can safely say that Gardiner will be no lower than a second pairing defenseman.