Editorials

5 Defensemen Blackhawks Should Target In Free Agency

By Tony Gianares
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 27: Jake Gardiner #51 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 27, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 27: Jake Gardiner #51 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 27, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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TORONTO, ON – JANUARY 3: Jake Gardiner #51 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck against the Minnesota Wild during the Next Generation NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on January 3, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Wild defeated the Maple Leafs 4-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – JANUARY 3: Jake Gardiner #51 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck against the Minnesota Wild during the Next Generation NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on January 3, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Wild defeated the Maple Leafs 4-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

Jake Gardiner

As the Toronto Maple Leafs have stockpiled talent, their cap space has gradually dwindled down. They are projected to have $8.77 mil in cap space to use this offseason, with 17 players under contract. An NHL roster has a 20 player minimum. Maple Leafs’ GM, Kyle Dubas, has gotten himself into quite the pickle.

The Maple Leafs’ misfortune works to the Blackhawks’ advantage. Leafs defenseman, Jake Gardiner (29 in July), will likely become a salary cap casualty this offseason. He is a lefthanded defenseman who stands at 6’3″ 203 lbs.

Gardiner is a Top 4 defenseman known for his offensive prowess, but he is competent in the defensive zone. In his 8-year NHL career, he has produced 245 points (45G, 200A) in 551 games with a 9 ± rating.

There are pros to signing Jake Gardiner this offseason. He eats minutes which is something the Blackhawks will need in order to protect Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as their careers wind down. The power play will also see a nice boost, as he could replace either Keith or Seabrook on that 2nd power play unit. I also believe he can be another mentor to the Blackhawks’ young defensemen as they reach the NHL — 2 and 7 won’t be here forever.

Gardiner is currently on the last year of a 5-year, $20.25 mil ($4.05 mil AAV) deal. His next contract will likely be his last chance at a big payday. I can see Gardiner landing somewhere in the range of $5-6.5 mil AAV.

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