Like the rest of his teammates, rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner has heard his name associated with potential trade talk, quite a compliment for a player who a year ago was playing NCAA hockey for the University of Wisconsin. Not that he wants to go anywhere, but you can be sure any rival general manager that Maple Leafs boss Brian Burke talks to as the trade deadline approaches has Gardiner on his wish list.
“Any time your name comes up in a rumour, you don’t like it,” Gardiner said Monday following practice at the MasterCard Centre. “Everything is a rumour. I don’t know what’s true and what’s not.”
Gardiner already has been traded once — albeit while still in college — when he was sent here last year along with Joffrey Lupul in the deal that shipped defenceman Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim.
One of the other Leafs players most often mentioned in trade talks, fellow defenceman Luke Schenn, seems to be handling the hype well.
“It’s talked about every day and asked about every day, it’s part of playing in Toronto,” Schenn said. “It’s my fourth deadline right now and every one gets more hyped. I think it’s bigger in Canada than Canada Day is. It’s like an annual holiday now.”
DEVIL OF A TIME
The Leafs may be desperate to return to the win column Tuesday against the Devils, but they will have to do it against one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, not to mention one of the more pesky to play against.
The Devils aren’t likely to run down the New York Rangers for the top seed in the conference, but they are making a strong run to claim No. 4 and home-ice advantage in the first round.
“They clog the middle very well, so we’re going to have to utilize our wingers and get pucks in deep and not turn pucks over,” Leafs centre David Steckel said.
A big part of the Devils’ nice run has been the play of veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur, who is on his hottest streak in recent memory. In his past 13 starts, Brodeur is 9-3-1 with a 1.75 goals-against average.
PICK IT UP
The Leafs have found out too often lately the damage done by a slow start, something they will try to rectify against the Devils. Part of the challenge is finding their legs after a week in western Canadian time zones.
“February are usually the dog days of the season and it’s hard to be energized,” Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said. “That’s why we had nothing but just a high tempo kind of skating practice. No standing around. We want to mimic what we’re going to do (Tuesday) — we’ve got to get our legs going.
“It’s just that time of year. But seeing where we are in the standings, there’s no excuse for us not to have energy.”
With Carl Gunnarsson healthy enough to return to the Leafs lineup against the Devils, Keith Aulie was returned to the AHL Marlies on Monday and was in the lineup for their afternoon game against Lake Erie. “I wouldn’t play him if I didn’t think he could help us,” Wilson said of Gunnarsson. “He looked fine in practice so I expect him to play.” ... Given their tight-checking ways, it’s no surprise that the Devils are often in tight games. In fact, they lead the NHL with 13 shootout games and another league-high 10 wins in those situations ... Winger Colby Armstrong skated on the Leafs’ top line with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak at Monday’s practice as winger Joffrey Lupul sat out with a minor injury. Wilson said Lupul took a shot in the foot or high ankle Saturday in the Leafs’ 6-2 loss to Vancouver but will be fine for the Devils. “Just a maintenance day,” Wilson said of Lupul’s absence. “He’s a full-go for (Tuesday).”