As far as consolation prizes go, you could do a lot worse than Jake Gardiner.
You see, when the Toronto Maple Leafs were working out the details of the Francois Beauchemin trade with the Anaheim Ducks back in early 2011, the Leafs had actually initially asked for Justin Schultz, Gardiner's teammate at the University of Wisconsin.
The Ducks decided that Schultz had more potential, so Gardiner was deemed expendable and the Leafs are thankful for it.
In a cruel twist for Anaheim, Schultz might end up in Toronto anyway, this time for little to no compensation.
To make it worse for the Ducks, they won't be receiving a compensatory draft pick for failing to sign him because he wasn't drafted in the first round.
As mentioned in this article published on TheHockeyWriters.com, section 8.3(b) of the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement states that a compensatory draft pick will only be awarded to a team that fails to sign a player drafted in the first round.
The article cites the Blake Wheeler case in 2008 as an example of this rule.
The Phoenix Coyotes drafted Wheeler fifth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but failed to come to terms with him when he left the University of Minnesota following the 2007-08 season. As a result, the League awarded the Coyotes the fifth pick in the second round of the 2008 draft as compensation.
In another strange twist, that pick (35th overall) was traded from Phoenix to Anaheim along with the 39th overall pick for the 27th overall pick.
With the 35th overall pick, the Ducks selected a young man by the name of Nicolas Deschamps.
Anaheim technically still has time to negotiate with Schultz's camp, but apparently, he is all but set to hit free agency come July 1st.
Per TSN Insider Bob McKenzie:
Ducks have 30-day exclusive window to sign him but writing is on wall: Schultz going to UFA. 30-day window expires just prior to NHL draft.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 25, 2012
Obvious strategy now for ANA is to trade Schultz's rights to club Schultz will sign with but Ducks would need Schultz's cooperation on that.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 25, 2012
Here's the thing. If Schultz already has an idea of where he wants to go, that particular team probably won't have to bother trading for his rights.
Which defenseman would Justin Schultz replace?
On the other hand, if the young defenseman decides he wants to test the market, acquiring his rights might be a smart move.
In the latter case, the Leafs would have quite a few pieces they'd be willing (read: happy) to deal for his rights. Mike Komisarek, Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi, anyone?
A mid-round pick would likely be more welcome from the Ducks' point of view, but Leaf fans can dream, right? (And boy, do they ever.)
There are probably 29 teams out there that are interested in Schultz's services, but the Leafs have a not-so-secret ace-in-the-hole in his old college pal Jake Gardiner.
Bob McKenzie thinks Schultz will end up with the Edmonton Oilers because he would fit in well with all the other kids over there, but McKenzie's fellow TSN analyst Marc Crawford thinks he'll end up in Toronto.
I think he's going to go to Toronto, one of the reasons is I want to fix the entire Toronto defence tonight, I'm picking Dumba and Schultz, but also he has a former teammate there in Jake Gardiner.
It appears at least one expert agrees that the Leafs should draft a defenseman, but I digress.
Unlike some of Schultz's soon-to-be fellow free agents like Ryan Suter or Zach Parise, the Toronto Maple Leafs appear to have a distinct advantage over the 28 other teams that will be trying to sign him.
Let's hope Jake Gardiner is a good salesperson.