Free Agent Profile: Jake Gardiner

Gardiner is the top defenseman on the market, but will he be too expensive for Dallas?

Let’s, uhh, hope this profile goes better than last time. Then again, that shouldn’t be too hard...

As we discussed when profiling Anton Stralman, the Dallas Stars are in need of a top-four defenseman, preferably one who is right-handed. Today, we’re going to take a look at the top defenseman on the UFA market — Jake Gardiner.

An eight-year veteran, Gardiner has been a strong offensive defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs since day one. He has scored at a pace of 40+ points in each of his last three seasons, and at 28 years old he shouldn’t be slowing anytime soon. The man oozes offense when he’s on the ice, although often what goes around comes around:

Make no mistake, though — Gardiner is no defensive slouch. He’s a very effective penalty killer, and has been trusted with 20+ minutes of ice time in each season of his career. He’s also a positive possession player, and it’s typically his teammates who are hurting him in the defensive zone, not the other way around:

It should go without saying that Gardiner would be a perfect fit for the Dallas Stars. He isn’t quite a top-pairing defenseman, but he wouldn’t need to be with John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen on the roster. He’d be a great partner for either player, and together with Esa Lindell, the four defensemen would make up one of the strongest blue lines in the entire league.

Here’s where the problem comes in — Gardiner is going to be expensive. As mentioned at the beginning, he’s the best defenseman on the UFA market now that Erik Karlsson has re-signed with the San Jose Sharks. And no offense to Tyler Myers and the other defenders out there, but it isn’t even close.

In a normal summer, Gardiner would probably get five to six years with an AAV of about $6 million. But considering the weak defensive market, he could easily land max term for as much as $7 million, if not more. After all, there’s more than a couple teams out there with plenty of cap space and a strong desire to upgrade their blue line. (I personally thought the New Jersey Devils were the most likely destination before they traded for P.K. Subban.)

Maybe Dallas can sell Gardiner on competing for a Stanley Cup (and no state income taxes) and get him for only $6 million or so. If they can, then they should open talks without much hesitation. But more likely than not, Gardiner will end up getting overpaid by some other team, while hoping he really can become a top-pairing defenseman.