The commitment between Jake Gardiner and the Toronto Maple Leafs wasn’t going to be this long.
Before the puck-ragging defenceman inked a five-year, $20.25-million contract Tuesday, the sides were negotiating a two-year bridge contract. (Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported a month ago that the short-term deal would be somewhere between $2.25 million and $3 million per season.) But the price and the term of Gardiner’s extension jumped significantly.
“Right away I was thinking two-year deal. So were they,” Gardiner told Brady and Walker of Sportsnet 590 The Fan Wednesday morning. “We came together and decided a long-term deal was better off for both of us, and we got it done. I think it’s positive for myself and the Leafs.”
LISTEN NOW: Gardiner’s full interview with Brady & Walker
Gardiner, whose name had been bandied about in trade rumours at various points during his time in Toronto, scored 10 goals and 21 assists in 80 games for the Leafs in 2013-14 and led the club in Corsi-for percentage (46.4%).
He said the off-season additions of president Brendan Shanahan and assistant general manager Kyle Dubas to the Leafs' front office might have had an impact in lengthening the deal's term.
"It was a pretty easy process. It was pretty smooth the whole time. It was just fine-tuning some numbers," Gardiner said. The contract helps the Leafs in that it does not include no-movement protection. "I just wanted to be a Leaf. That's a big part of it."
Despite the Leafs' collapse at the finish line, Gardiner scored 14 points in the team's last 18 games, finishing the season strong. He said he plans to carry that momentum into October.
"I look to add a little offence and be a steady defenceman back there too," he said. "We signed a lot of new guys, and we brought in [Roman] Polak and [Stephane] Robidas on the back end. I think that's really going to help us."
Gardiner believes the changes to the Leafs roster made since Shanahan stepped in will "definitely" improve the team. He acknowledged ex-teammates Nikolai Kulemin, Carl Gunnarsson and Jay McClement as great players, "but we needed something new."
The 24-year-old blueliner's relationship with head coach Randy Carlyle has been rumoured to be rocky, but Gardiner denied that the two have a bad relationship.
"He likes to push young guys, especially when he thinks they can reach their full potential. I think that's what he's done with me," said Gardiner. "He pushes me, and he plays me a lot, which is a positive. He plays me a lot of minutes, which is all you can ask for in a defenceman."