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Nonis: Gunnarsson departure means Gardiner, Rielly need to step up

Jun 29, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT

Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner AP

One of the curious trades made on Saturday involved the Toronto Maple Leafs. They dealt defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and the 90th overall pick to the St. Louis Blues for Roman Polak.

While that deal netted the Leafs a physical blue liner, it also sent Dion Phaneuf‘s top-pairing partner out of town. That means there’s a spot next to the Leafs captain and a chance to play a lot more minutes open and Leafs GM Dave Nonis said it creates a big opportunity for young defensemen Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly as TSN’s Jonas Siegel shared.

“Those guys are going to have to take steps forward,” Nonis said of the promising duo. “It might be a lot to ask for Morgan a little bit in his second year, but he made some pretty big strides last year and we would expect that he’ll take some more next [year]. And I think Jake is a good possibility [of doing the same] as well.”

Both players are very young but have tremendous skill.

Gardiner, 23, saw big minutes playing on the second pairing with Cody Franson and averaged 21:05 of ice time per game last season. Rielly, 20, had an impressive rookie season last year with 27 points and averaged 17:11 time on ice per game while paired with Tim Gleason on the third pairing.

Gardiner seems like the logical candidate to take Gunnarsson’s spot unless coach Randy Carlyle is reticent to break up that pairing with Franson. Either way, Phaneuf is going to have a skilled, speedy new partner to keep up with.

  1. thatguytml92 - Jun 29, 2014 at 10:05 AM

    I hope it’s Reilly, unless they pick up boyle..

    • TestSubjekt - Jun 29, 2014 at 10:29 AM

      I’m not a Leafs fan but I think Boyle would be the best available partner for Phaneuf. Take some of the heat off Phaneuf and since Boyle’s not a youngster, like Gardiner or Rielly, chances are less likely he’ll cave under pressure.

  2. ragsrus - Jun 29, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    Leafs should be ok this year. Their D is still better than a lot of the east teams( like the Debbie’s which complete garbage).

  3. garybrian - Jun 29, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    Think your forgetting one thong here. Grandson is a free agent and hasn’t signed yet. He may not come back depending on what the Leafs offer.

    • dueman - Jun 29, 2014 at 2:02 PM

      Franson is an RFA, so the only way he doesn’t come back is if Toronto trades him….

  4. garybrian - Jun 29, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    Sorry, meant Franson

  5. billiam55 - Jun 29, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    i cant believe they aren’t gonna buy out Phaneuf. same with clarkson.

    • scrouch - Jun 29, 2014 at 2:11 PM

      They aren’t going to buy out Phaneuf or Clarkson. They’re out of compliance buyouts, and the contracts were made after the new CBA anyway so they couldn’t use compliance buyouts on them. And they don’t have the players to be able to absorb the cap hit from the buyouts and still get a team on the ice that isn’t half AHL guys for the next few years.

      • billiam55 - Jun 30, 2014 at 6:29 PM

        haha thats a shame. great GM right

  6. scrouch - Jun 29, 2014 at 2:14 PM

    Yeah, I don’t really understand this. They moved out someone who was playing on their top line, plus a pick, and didn’t save any cap space, for a guy to play probably on their 3rd pairing. Don’t really see any benefit here from the Leafs standpoint.

  7. killerpgh - Jun 29, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    I know it doesn’t fit here is this article, but figured this is the best place to ask a question about a Leafs player.
    Can any Leafs fans speculate what type of money Nikolai Kulemin is looking for? Rumors is the Penguins are interested in him. Kind of a bring in Malkin’s long time friend to fill in for trading Malkin’s buddy,James Neal. Kulemin numbers with the Leafs are nothing great, but Kulemin put up very respectable numbers playing with Malkin in the past (14 goals, 24 assist, 38 points in 36 games during the lockout with Metallurgh Magnitogorsk in the KHL).

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