It’s one of the difficult things about playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The news cycle often has a name or two off the roster in trade rumours, and right now it’s focused squarely on young defenceman Jake Gardiner.
He hasn’t been able to entirely avoid the talk.
“That’s part of the Leafs,” Gardiner said after practice on Wednesday. “Media’s going to speculate about things. It’s part of the business. If something happens then that’s the way it is. You just can’t worry about it.
“You always hear a little, but I try and stay out of that. I remember [Luke] Schenn a couple years ago, it seemed like he was talked about every single day. Then nothing happened for the longest time. It did end up happening, but that happens with every guy in here and you’ve just got to block it out.”
While the Gardiner rumours are coming from legitimate sources and, in my opinion, have some basis in reality, what has been overblown so far this season is the notion that the young blueliner has somehow been one of the Leafs main problems.
Gardiner has made a few notable turnovers and mistakes to be sure, but he played well in Tuesday’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche and logged more than 20 minutes in doing so.
On the season, meanwhile, Gardiner has the best possession numbers of any Leafs blueliner despite a 37.8 per cent zone start figure (percentage of offensive versus defensive zone faceoffs) that is one of the lowest on the team.
He still has an undeniably great skill set in terms of being able to skate the puck out of trouble, but what’s noticeable is just how much partner Paul Ranger has struggled to adapt to being back in the NHL for the first time in four years.
The organization plans on being patient with Ranger’s game, however, and he and Gardiner were again working out some of the kinks at Wednesday’s practice.
“He competes hard. He’s pretty vocal,” Gardiner said. “Good skater and he plays an aggressive style.
“You try to get used to [your partner] right away, but sometimes you don’t click, sometimes you do. You’ve just got to work with whoever you’re playing with. We can always work on things. We’re working in practice, trying to talk a little bit more and communicate better.”
As for the blame being placed on Toronto’s defence early on this year, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was careful to say after practice that it’s on the entire team to improve, not just certain individuals.
The coach’s earlier statements about Gardiner in particular generated some attention in the media, and the organization appears sensitive about presenting too negative a message given the team’s 3-1-0 start.
“There’s always a lot made out of certain individuals,” Carlyle said. “It seems like one guy gets the x on his back… We’ve got a group of players who can improve and we don’t want to single individuals out at this point, four games into the season. We all know that we have to be better.”
“We win as a team and we lose as a team and that’s how it’s going to be all year,” Gardiner added. “We’ve got to work on some things. Everyone’s not at the top of their game right now.”