Free agent defenseman Jake Gardiner has signed a four-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes worth an average annual value of $4.05 million.
The 29-year-old left-handed defenseman was selected by the Anaheim Ducks 17th overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft. However, he never laced up his skates for the Ducks. Instead Gardiner stayed on his college team, the University of Wisconsin, before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2011, where he became a key contributor for eight seasons.
Gardiner has averaged just over 30 points per season throughout his career and is noted for his offensive potential and power-play specialty. Last season, Gardiner put up 30 points with three goals and 27 assists in only 62 games for the Maple Leafs, missing time due to a back injury which he says he has recovered from and feels “100%” right now in a media call.
“Jake is a solid veteran blueliner with a proven history of contributing offensively, including on the power play,” said Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell in the Canes press release. “He’s had options this summer, but ultimately decided that Carolina is his best fit, and we’re thrilled to have him.”
Gardiner will be slotting into the left side of the Hurricanes defense more than likely at the number two slot, behind defenseman Jaccob Slavin. Carolina has a surplus of right-handed defenseman, but adding the veteran blueliner will help ease the load on someone like other Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce who played the majority of last season on his offhand side.
With the addition of Gardiner, however, the Hurricanes now have eight defensemen on its NHL roster, with its two youngest members Haydn Fleury and Gustav Forsling requiring waivers to be moved down to the American Hockey League roster in Charlotte, creating quite a logjam at the blue line for the Canes.
Carolina’s problem is not only with the surplus of contracts in the NHL, but also the rising talent already in the AHL like 2016 first-round pick Jake Bean and new college signee Chase Priskie who are both now finding no room to move up to the big club.
The Canes’ position is not a weakness for them, but an opportunity where they can potentially put together an enticing package to sway a trade partner for another big piece. Carolina has need on the right-wing side and with the defensive logjam, the Hurricanes have the ability to go out and acquire a top-six forward if that is the direction it wishes to head.
With the moves that Carolina and Waddell have made in the last season and the current offseason alone, a big-ticket acquisition is not off the table as the new front office has proven that they can pull off major deals, like with forwards Nino Niederreiter and Eric Haula.
Time will tell what the Hurricanes ultimately decide to do, but for the first time in a while, Carolina is becoming a place free agents want to come and play, and the team is seemingly finally shifting out of its nearly decade-long rebuild and into the “win now” phase.