Randy Carlyle is right: Jake Gardiner does need to play tougher
There is virtually no chance Jake Gardiner likes Randy Carlyle. The Maple Leafs’ head coach isn’t much of a communicator, and his actions with the promising defenseman have seemed inconsistent. How can a guy either be worth 20-plus minutes of ice time (he’s second on the team in time-on-ice per game to only Dion Phaneuf), or zero and a seat in the pressbox?
Carlyle gets vilified by some fans for this curious usage, but it’s getting tough to deny there are times when you can see what Carlyle sees, and gets frustrated by: an all-world skater with great offensive instincts who sometimes seems unwilling to engage, unwilling to get dirty.
Not everyone needs to be a banger, and not everyone needs to drop the gloves - that’s not the right use of “dirty” here, and in Gardiner’s case, those things wouldn’t do any good anyway. But it’s rare to truly thrive in the NHL if you aren’t willing to show some of what I consider hockey toughness: being willing to be the first in on the puck to direct it somewhere good, in exchange for taking a smack from an opponent.
I mentioned in that article linked above that Patrice Bergeron is the perfect example of hockey tough. He damn near destroys his body every playoffs in order to move the puck the right way, something hockey analysts extoll as one of his greatest on-ice virtues.
Ray Ferraro of TSN had this to say after watching the Leafs on Saturday:
“I was really disturbed by Gardiner's lack of give a damn, or lack of interest in taking a hit to make a play on the third goal. That was an enormous red flag for me. What's a new coach going to do there?"
(Stick-tap to @HopeSmoke for the quote.)
And that’s the crux of it. The poor relationship between Carlyle and Gardiner is usually blamed on the Leafs’ coach, who is at least partially to blame for where they seem to be, but there also seems to be a little fire to the smoke coming from Leafs’ brass about Gardiner’s play.
We're allowed to call non-Russians "enigmatic," and I'm not sure there's a better word for his on-again, off-again style of play.
Here’s the goal Ferraro was talking about: Gregory Campbell’s short-handed tally to put the Bruins up 3-0 in Toronto.
That pull-up is pretty darn soft, and directly cost the Leafs a goal.
Later in the game, here he is defending Dougie Hamilton's rush.
When you’re asking players in the dressing room for more “compete,” it’s tough to maintain credibility when these things go unpunished. Rolling that player out on the next shift would fly directly in the face of what you’ve been preaching.
Players are undeniably affected by their status with their coach, and that plays out on the ice. Those that are marginalized can suffer lapses in confidence, which turns into hesitation and further mistakes. In Gardiner’s case, it’s not hard to find those who blame Carlyle for the occasional lack of fire and general blunder.
But maybe (to steal a construction from Louis C.K.) he’s a player with a ton of skill who has a genuine distaste for the unfun parts of the game. We’re not all built like badgers. Maybe Gardiner is unwilling to sacrifice himself the way his old school coach wants him to, and when a player doesn’t play the way his coach wants him to, he has to live with the consequences (almost always tied to ice time).
Lifehack: A quick fix for a bad relationship with your boss is to do what your boss asks of you.
In the case of Jake Gardiner and the Maple Leafs, a new coach might allow him to play more to his style, his confidence might grow, and he might take off. But for now he plays for a coach who wants him to show more hockey toughness on a team where players are asking others to “care more.”
If Gardiner wants to listen, he’ll dress, he'll get minutes. That goes for any player. If he won’t fall in line, you can expect his unique useage to continue.
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