For the past, well, year or so, there has been a lot of trade talk surrounding Jake Gardiner of the Leafs. After the much publicized “Free Jake Gardiner” campaign last season started by Gardiner’s agent, Jake Gardiner has been traded thousands of times in the minds of would-be General Managers everywhere. So, let’s take a look at the latest offerings.
On the TSN website today, Scott Cullen, building off the 30 Thoughts Column by Elliotte Friedman, floated some Jake Gardiner trade scenarios around the NHL, predicated, of course, on the fact belief the Leafs are at least considering moving Gardiner. Friedman and Cullen mention that the Leafs would want a young, cheap asset(s) in return for Gardiner, which you would think would rule the Flames out, as they are currently trying to stockpile those assests themselves. However, seemingly inexplicably, one of the scenarios mentioned by Cullen is the Flames and their 2011 1st rounder, Sven Baertschi.
The basis for Cullen’s suspicion that the Flame’s would be willing to move Baertschi seems to stem from Baertschi’s struggle to establish himself as a top-six forward and the recent criticism levied at Baertschi by Brian Burke.
First of all, if the Flames are looking to part with Baertschi, (which, at the moment, I am quite convinced that they are not) it would seem that they would look for a significant upgrade at defense in return. The Flames seem to be quite taken with their current crop of offensive prospects but are without a legitimate, high-end, top-four prospect in the system outside of perhaps Tyler Wotherspoon and that might be a stretch for him. Patrick Sieloff has surprised many with his mature play for his age, but his true value will likely not be evident for another season or two of pro development in Abbotsford.
The question becomes, is Gardiner (or perhaps more specifically, will Gardiner become) that top-four defenseman and even still, is that worth giving up on Baertschi? I believe not. Not at least right now. That is not to say that Gardiner cannot become a reliable, productive top-four defender in the NHL, that very well could happen and many in Toronto believe that he has already become a legitimate top-four defenseman.
It seems to me that Baertschi’s value to the Flames, right now and in the future, is greater than the immediate upgrade that Gardiner would provide the Flames’ top-four. There is no doubt that if Gardiner was to be traded to the Flames, he would immediately fit into their top-four but I don’t see the point in sacrificing a valuable asset for a defenseman who has struggled to stay in the NHL and may even be another case-study in the magnifying influence of playing in Toronto.
It is true that an organization must think clearly about the true nature of their talent and not become sentimentally attached to a particular prospect, I believe that Baertschi (along with Monahan, Brodie, Backlund and perhaps Gaudreau a little later on), represent the new establishment of the Flames and to abandon him at age 20 would be the antithesis of the patience that Burke is currently preaching. Despite the criticism sent Baertschi’s way, Justin Azevedo quite concretely demonstrated that Flames fans should not worry about Baertschi’s development and to be patient with his progress in the best league in the world. Also, for what it’s worth, the fanbase are hardly ready to trade Baertschi, as he was only just anointed as their lord and saviour.
It looks as though this trade is merely speculative on Cullen’s part, perhaps without a firm understanding of the Flames’ current rebuild. Not to mention the fact that Baertschi does not exactly fit the description of Randy Carlyle’s Leafs as he isn’t likely to leave his bench to defend Jiri Hudler.
So, if I was foolish enough to bet money on the management decisions of the Flames, I would bet that if Jake Gardiner is moved, it won’t be to Calgary in the matter presented today by Cullen.