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Toronto's D Logjam: Who Goes for Gardiner?

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With Jake Gardiner ready to return who's the odd man out on the Leafs blueline?

Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins says defenceman Jake Gardiner is good enough to play with the Toronto Maple Leafs right now, but there's simply no spot for him in the lineup. - Sportsnet's Mike Johnston

Jake Gardiner and Carl Gunnarsson are both going to get healthy at some point, what should the Leafs do with their defensive logjam?

The image above is a Usage Chart generated by theninjagreg's sweet utility. You can click here in case you're reading this article not on the day it was published and the chart will be magically updated thanks to the wonders of the internet.

The way to read the chart is as follows: on the Y-Axis (up and down) is Quality of Competition. Higher up on the chart means a player faces tougher opponents. The X-Axis (left and right) is how often a player starts his shifts in the offensive zone. If a player is farther to the right it means they get shifts with less of a chance of giving up a goal.

The bubble size shows how well a player drives possession relative to their team, with blue being positive (good) and orange being negative.

We accept that Dion Phaneuf, John-Michael Liles, Jake Gardiner and Carl Gunnarsson are going to be Leafs if everyone were healthy, and we'll use Mike Komisarek as our 7th D healthy scratch to match recent results. What that means is we have two more D spots when everyone's healthy and three until Gunnar comes back, with the following players looking to stick:

  • Mike Kostka
  • Mark Fraser
  • Korbinian Holzer
  • Cody Franson
This is actually a bit of a tough decision. Looking at the usage chart Kostka, Fraser, and Franson have positive possession numbers. Holzer's major last night combined with his black hole possession numbers mean I'd eliminate him first and in the short term run D of:

Phaneuf, Kostka, Liles, Gardiner, Franson, Fraser, Komisarek

When Gunnarsson comes back we need to eliminate one of Franson, Kostka and Fraser which is where this actually gets difficult.

Pro Con
KOSTKA

Highest TOI

Hardest ZS

Forces Phaneuf to play the wrong side

Lowest possession numbers

FRANSON

Best Pedigree

Youngest

PP Work

Not ready to play on the first pair

Not Shea Weber

FRASER

Solid stats

Can fight

Easiest usage of the three

Identical to Franson but older

Personally I think I'd keep Cody Franson first; his work on the power play has been excellent and he drives play well against his opponents. I think Mark Fraser is a similar player but older so I'd rather give minutes to Franson. For Fraser his fighting is a double edged sword. You generally don't want to be a d-man short for a quarter of a period or more.

Kostka had a rough start, but I'm surprised to see he's a positive possession player. I don't think I'd keep him on the first pairing, opting to go Phaneuf - Gunnarsson, Liles-Gardiner, and then Franson-Kostka but the more I think about it the more that all makes sense.

Mark Fraser's been great here so far, but I think he's the victim of a numbers game. Luckily we have the luxury of roster spots due to injury right now, and having guys like Fraser and Kostka in the organization contributing for very little money is a big help to the Leafs.