The Carolina Hurricanes announced the signing of former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner on Friday. The 29-year-old's four-year contract carries an average annual value of $4.05 million.
Drafted 17th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, Gardiner went to the Maple Leafs via a February 9, 2011, trade before he made the NHL leap.
Gardiner received a promotion before the 2011-12 season and has played his entire eight-year NHL career in Toronto.
Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic provided the following scouting report:
"Gardiner is a modern NHL defenseman, one who makes his due by moving the puck up ice and he's one of the league's strongest in that regard. He's also one of the league's best playmakers on the back end and was a key part of what drove Toronto's elite offense. Very few defenders drive play at both ends of the ice as well as Gardiner does and his presence could be a huge addition to any team's top four. Gardiner isn't a No. 1 defenseman but could be a strong complement for years to come. He should have top pair value for roughly the next five years."
He also wrote that Gardiner was "easily" the best free-agent defenseman available after the San Jose Sharks re-signed Erik Karlsson.
The Maple Leafs felt Gardiner's loss when he suffered a back injury that kept him out for an 18-game stretch from late February to early April. Toronto went 46-28-8 on the season but only 8-7-3 without him during that span.
The ex-Leaf blueliner posted three goals, 27 assists and a plus-19 last season.
Losing Gardiner only adds to the list of defensive questions Toronto must answer; the Maple Leafs allowed 251 goals last season, more than all but one playoff team.
As for the Canes, Gardiner should be a big piece of the puzzle in the team's quest to improve upon its 2018-19 postseason appearance, which included a first-round upset win over the Washington Capitals.
The Canes allowed the sixth-fewest goals in the league, and Gardiner can help to improve that ranking even further under second-year head coach Rod Brind'Amour.