Leafs' roster needs to be examined after another first round exit
Jake Gardiner is the lone player to dress for the Toronto Maple Leafs in all three of their Game 7 losses to the Boston Bruins since 2013 and is a combined minus-10 in those contests.
Gardiner didn’t speak to the media after Tuesday's 5-1 loss, in which he posted a minus-3 rating, but teammate Morgan Rielly offered a spirited defence of a pending free agent.
"Nobody cares what anyone says," Rielly said. "He’s a f---ing really good player. We want him back next year, so that’s that."
Gardiner, who was a minus-5 in last year's Game 7 loss, turned the puck over to Bruins forward Marcus Johansson behind the Leafs net late in the first period on Tuesday right before Johansson potted the eventual game-winner.
After the loss, Leafs centre Auston Matthews took part of the blame of the costly turnover.
“I think just miscommunication,” said Matthews. “I was calling for it to go up the middle and I think he thought I meant reverse, so just a little miscommunication. That’s a mistake on our part. That’s on both of us and it’s in the back of our net.”
Gardiner, who missed the entire month of March due to a back injury, posted three goals and 30 points in 62 games during the regular season, averaging 21:13 of ice time per game. The 28-year-old logged 17:17 of ice time in Tuesday's Game 7 against the Bruins. He finished the series with two assists while averaging 16:10 of ice time per game.
“He’s not mobile,” head coach Mike Babcock said of Gardiner playing through an injury after the game. “It’s unfortunate. But he tried to give us what he could and tried to help us. You know, obviously any time you’re playing a guy that’s not 100 per cent, you think he’s better than the guys that are available that are 100 per cent.
“He did what he could. In the end, it wasn’t enough to help us through this series. In saying that, no fault on his part.”
Gardiner has spent his entire professional playing career with the Maple Leafs, debuting with the team in 2011 after being traded from the Anaheim Ducks.
Gardiner is one of five pending unrestricted free agents on the Maple Leafs and carries a $4.05 million cap hit in the final season of his five-year, $20.25 million deal signed with the team in 2014.