The Arizona Coyotes had one of the best performing defensive corps in the NHL during the 2018/19 season, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping general manager John Chayka from looking for an upgrade.
This year’s group of defencemen, who are currently expected to carry a combined cap hit of $29,536,625, were exceptional in their own zone last season but struggled to really contribute offensively.
With enough quality around the blueline defensively, it would make sense for Chayka to consider moves that would boost the group’s offensive output.
That certainly could be the case if free agent Jake Gardiner remains unsigned as training camp and the opening day of the regular season draws closer.
With the off-season this deep into August, a time of year where news is very few and far between, any minor mention of a team’s interest in a player is sure to drum up intrigue.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman called into ‘Good Show’ this week to discuss a number of topics relating to the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the status of UFA defenceman Jake Gardiner being one of the smaller discussion points.
Friedman believes that Gardiner isn’t too hopeful that the Leafs will be able to free up room to bring him back and even believes he is no longer needed in the 6ix.
He then specifically mentions that the Arizona Coyotes have had interest in the 29-year-old Minnetonka, Minnesota native.
Gardiner would be a valuable addition to the Coyotes blueline as an offensive left-handed shot, giving the team a player that can produce consistently in the offensive zone.
In his eight NHL seasons, Gardiner has had six with over 30 points - two of them were over 40 points, with one of those seeing the American reach 52 points.
He has been utilized in both zones roughly 50% of the time, but he has found himself starting in the offensive zone more often in recent seasons.
Gardiner has been relied on heavily by the Leafs organization over the years and has never averaged below 20 minutes a game throughout his entire professional career.
With Alex Goligoski’s future still up in the air, it would be reasonable to expect Chayka to be considering some younger options along the blueline that could contribute to the offense.
There have been some concerns around Gardiner’s long-term health, with persistent back issues seeing him miss a large chunk of the regular season in 2018/19.
With those issues, it appears the market is far smaller for Gardiner than many initially believed and he may need to be willing to take a cheaper deal if he hopes to find a home in the NHL anytime soon.