January 29, 2019 | 11:00pm ET
GARDINER’S LAST SEASON IN TORONTO?
Jake Gardiner, defenceman
The Toronto Maple Leafs made a significant add to their defence Monday evening, acquiring 29-year-old veteran Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings.
Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas parted with a 2019 first-round pick, top forward prospect Carl Grundstrom and the rights to young defenceman Sean Durzi, showing he’s willing to make a big splash to bolster his roster.
The addition of Muzzin instantly strengthens the Maple Leafs. Muzzin, who is signed through next season at an AAV of $4 million, is going to jump right onto the team’s top pair alongside Morgan Reilly, deepening the club’s defence with Ron Hainsey moving to the third pair.
But Muzzin’s arrival, as impactful as it may be this season, also puts defenseman Jake Gardiner’s future with the club in jeopardy.
Gardiner, 28, is in the final-year of a five-year contract he signed with the Leafs in July 2014. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and he may be pricing himself out of Toronto’s budget.
While in conversation on “Leafs Lunch” on TSN 1050 radio in Toronto on Tuesday, TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger alluded to the fact that he believes Gardiner’s days are coming to an end in Toronto.
“I think it was before and it definitely is after (the trade for Muzzin),” said Dreger. “I think the writing is on the wall that Gardiner will be used as an own rental.”
This does not come as a huge shock, as the impending cap crunch the Leafs will be facing this summer has left Gardiner’s future with the club uncertain.
Dreger hinted Gardiner will be in the hunt for a contract that could have an AAV of north than $6 million per season, which the Leafs aren’t likely to bite on. Now that the Leafs have added cost certainty with the addition of Muzzin until the summer of 2020 at a reasonable cap hit, there seems to be no room for the club to retain Gardiner.