Where have you gone, Jake Gardiner? Leafs nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
The loyal fans of the Maple Leafs are starting to have deja vu. The team ran out to a hot start and then fell off the table, the same as the last season. The Leafs were the only team that was in the playoffs 24 games into last season and out of the playoffs by Game 48. They might be heading toward that abyss again and there's something they can try to do about it but aren't.
One of the organization's best defenseman, Jake Gardiner, is still playing in Toronto, but in the AHL with the Marlies. He was sent there at the beginning of the season after suffering a concussion and he's been back and playing for a few weeks now. Yet he has stayed down on the farm.
His agent Ben Hankinson doesn't understand why. Like any player agent would do, he campaigned for his client on Twitter. All it took was one hashtag to get his message across loud and clear.
It's a pretty good demand even if Hankinson wasn't his agent. Gardiner was a rookie last season, playing in 75 games. In that time he scored seven goals and added 23 assists while playing more than 21 minutes per game. There was talk about him being a fringe Calder Trophy candidate he was so impressive.
In other words, he's good. And he's shown he is an NHL-ready player and is more than capable of performing in the big leagues.
Now he's stuck in the AHL. The crux of the issue seems to be a preference of coach Randy Carlyle to have a very tough team on the ice and that especially includes the defensemen. Gardiner is a bit more of the puck-moving variety, not necessarily a bruiser on the back.
It makes you wonder if Gardiner has a future with the Leafs at all as long as Carlyle is behind the bench. Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star certainly wonders that.
Gardiner, a flashy piece of untapped potential, stands as a perfect hunk of trade bait as the April 3 deadline approaches.
I suppose that would be one way to #FreeJakeGardiner.
This has become a bigger issue as the Leafs have hit a bump in the road here. They have lost three games in a row, and in six of their past seven games they have surrendered at least four goals. That is not very good, in case you were wondering.
For what it's worth, his coach in the AHL, Dallas Eakins, opined on the tweet. "From his agent's standpoint, I'm not sure it was well thought out," Eakins said.
Playing for the Marlies this season, Gardiner has appeared in 40 games. He has 10 goals and 20 assists to show for it.