Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs forward?
The rumor serves as a cautionary tale for multiple reasons. First lesson: even if the news comes from an authoritative mouth, consider the context. Leafs GM Dave Nonis did say this to the Toronto Sun in a recent interview:
"He was a forward, he started as a forward. He played more of his formative years as a forward. There’s been some talk of it, but I think he gives us an element at the back end that would be hard to replace. He can skate the puck out, pretty good on the power play. So I think right now, we would keep him back there, but ..."
Hence the slew of stories talking up the idea of Gardiner as a forward. What's more important, though, is the question that prompted that answer:
"Jake Gardiner, any thought of making him a forward, given you have Morgan Rielly on the back end?"
So "Leafs considering Gardiner as a forward" is the equivalent of someone asking me if I like turtles, me saying "They're cool," and a story breaking that "Matt Larkin thinks turtles are cool."
I suppose you could say that about anyone who answers any question in any story, but this is an extreme case. Nonis is being a good sport and entertaining a question, nothing more. That said, let's entertain the idea in case I'm wrong. How would Jake Gardiner look as a forward?
All wrong, that's how. Gardiner is a valuable player, be it as a trade chip or a building block, because of his skating, vision and ability to change the pace of a game from the back end. His skill set is unique to his position. If he was a forward? Not so much. A fast, dangly, non-physical Gardiner on the wing wouldn't be much different than, say, Mason Raymond? Magnus Paajarvi? His tools wouldn't be as rare at forward and thus would be less valuable to the Leafs.
Go ahead and point out the success of Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien converting to forward, because they differ from Gardiner in a meaningful way: they're blunt instruments. They're big, strong players. There's a premium on anyone who blends size with skill in today's NHL, regardless of the position he plays. Burns and Byfuglien remain more valuable as defensemen, if you ask me, but their abilities still translate well up front, more so than Gardiner's.
Viewed as rumor or truth, Gardiner at forward makes no sense for the Leafs.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin