The Toronto Maple Leafs have played 10 games without top-four defenseman Jake Gardiner, who has been out with a back injury, and it looks like the team misses him as they have struggled to a 5-4-1 record without him. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported late last night on Hockey Night in Canada that the Maple Leafs may be without Gardiner for quite a bit longer.
The 28-year-old blueliner has yet to resume skating and there is no timetable for his potential return. Despite often receiving the wrath of fans, Gardiner has been a key element to the team’s defense although his offense has dropped off this year. After posting 52 points last season, Gardiner has scored just two points and 27 assists in 60 games this year. Regardless, the team has struggled without the presence of Gardiner and defenseman Travis Dermott, who went down with shoulder injury on Feb. 27 and was expected to be out for four weeks and appears to be right on schedule.
It’s a tough situation for Toronto to be in after going out and acquiring Jake Muzzin in late January to bolster their defense. While there were rumors that Toronto was looking to add more depth to their defense, the team opted to stand pat defensively at the trade deadline, not realizing that they would lose two of their top-four defensemen not long thereafter. The team must put all their faith in their depth defensemen, including Martin Marincin, Justin Holl and Igor Ozhiganov. The team could also get some relief from the AHL as the team’s top defenseman, Calle Rosen, is close to returning from a foot injury and could fill in shortly.