Leafs refused to trade Gardiner

Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner and Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell race for the puck at the...

Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner and Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell race for the puck at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Feb. 23, 2012. (FRED THORNHILL/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:10 PM ET

TORONTO - Brian Burke won’t put a number on how many calls he recently fielded, but it would have been no surprise to see smoke coming out of his cell phone from overuse the past few weeks.

And you can bet that many of them started this way.

“Is that Gardiner kid available?”

This much we do know: They all ended this way.

“No.”

No haggling.

No debate.

No chance.

“They were short conversations,” Burke admitted on Monday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre.

They may have been short, but there was no shortage of them.

Chat with various general managers around the league, and the majority of them would tell you that they consider Gardiner to be the top prospect in the Toronto organization.

Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson is believed to be one of those executives. In fact, those in Edmonton who are still close to Howson from his days in the Oil organization insist that Gardiner was on Howson’s “must include” list in any potential package for Rick Nash.

Now, all that talk is moot. When the clock struck three on Monday afternoon to mark the arrival of the NHL’s over-hyped trade deadline, the young defenceman was still a Leaf.

Just the way Gardiner wanted it. Just the way many Leaf fans wanted it. And just the way Leafs amateur scout John McMorrow wanted it.

According to Burke, McMorrow started verbally pumping Gardiner’s tires back around the time of U.S. Thanksgiving in 2007 when both men were in the Ducks organization. Gardiner had just switched from forward to defence at the time, and McMorrow’s influence led Anaheim to select Gardiner with the 17th overall pick in the 2008 draft.

When Burke became GM of the Leafs, he eventually brought McMorrow over to the Toronto organization. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for Burke to start hearing the pro-Gardiner hype from McMorrow again.

“Last year, John was still bugging me about the kid,” Burke said with a chuckle.

Burke took McMorrow’s advice. Again. Indeed, on Feb. 9, 2011, Gardiner was acquired from the Ducks along with Joffrey Lupul for veteran defenceman Francois Beauchemin.

In retrospect, the Leafs would have won the trade even if Lupul hadn’t been included. That’s how impressive Gardiner has been to date,

Of course, the kid’s meteoric rise to NHL prominence comes as no surprise to McMorrow.

“Besides his physical hockey skill, one of the first things I noticed about him (five years ago) was the dynamic nature of his personality. Things like his energy and his competitiveness,” McMorrow said during a phone interview on Monday evening.

“I remember during the interview process, some kids are shy when you question them. With Jake, he never was. He just embraced the process moving forward.

“I’m pleased he’s still here and is a promising piece of a young team that we in the organization are excited about as we move forward.”

The Gardiner issue has been a hot topic in Toronto over the past few weeks, especially when it related to Nash. Would you include him in a deal? Obviously Burke wouldn’t. And didn’t.

“He’s clearly a guy with special gifts,” Burke said of the rookie blueliner. “We don’t know if he’s going to be the next Duncan Keith or Kris Letang. I don’t think it’s fair to players to make comparisons like that and I don’t like making them.

“Either way, he has outstanding skill.”

When the Leafs face off in a key showdown against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre, Gardiner will take the ice as the NHL’s leading scorer among rookie defencemen with 19 points, three more than his closest rival. More importantly, he’ll still be in Toronto blue and white, something he hopes will last for a long time.

“I don’t want to go anywhere,” Gardiner told the Toronto Sun back on Feb. 15 in Edmonton when informed of Howson’s interest in him. “I don’t want to be traded.

“I love it here. I want to be a Toronto Maple Leaf. That’s it.”

Today, he still is. And that’s a good thing.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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