Former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach Scott Gordon doesn’t put much stock in the notion that head coach Randy Carlyle doesn’t like Jake Gardiner. He finds the idea laughable.
“There’s this perception that Randy doesn’t like Jake Gardiner, and it’s comical,” Gordon told The Globe and Mail in an interview. “I can’t tell you how many times that Randy has said that the thought of trading Jake can’t even be discussed until he’s played 300 games.”
According to Gordon, one of Carlyle’s philosophies is that it takes at least 300 games to properly evaluate a young defenceman. So when the head coach is being hard on Gardiner, it is part of the process of developing the player.
“He personally thinks it takes 300 games to get to the point where you can make a decision on them,” Gordon said. “Here’s somebody who knows there’s going to be growing pains. Is he hard on them? Does he take away ice time? Yes. All he’s trying to do is make them accountable and try to get them on the right path.
“It never gets played out in the media that that’s his approach; I never heard anybody talk about that.”
Gardiner made significant strides at the end of the 2013-14 season, despite Toronto’s ugly collapse. He began receiving more ice time from the coaching staff and was given ample opportunity on the top power-play unit during the final month of the season.
“When you think about it, where Jake has come from, in his first year to now – to me, in the last 20 or so games, a lot of nights he was our best player. You can say what you want, but it’s Randy putting him over the boards for 20-plus minutes a game,” Gordon said. “He’s a talented kid. And it’s a lot because of Randy’s patience with him.”
The perception that Carlyle and Gardiner had a strained relationship began a year ago, when the defenceman did not make the team out of training camp and spent the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season in the American Hockey League with the Marlies. Gardiner’s agent became frustrated and posted and a message on Twitter that stated #FreeJakeGardiner. Once Gardiner was recalled from the AHL in 2013, he was occasionally made a healthy scratch by Carlyle due to his inconsistent play in the defensive zone.
Gardiner, 23, had 10 goals and 21 assists with a minus-4 rating in 80 games with the Leafs in 2013-14. He is scheduled to be a restricted free agent this summer and has been already mentioned in trade rumours.
The Leafs originally acquired Gardiner along with forward Joffrey Lupul and a conditional draft pick in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Francois Beauchemin on Feb. 9, 2011.
Gordon and fellow assistant coaches Dave Farrish and Greg Cronin were relieved of their duties last week when the Leafs announced a two-year extension for Carlyle.