TORONTO - Of all the challenges Randy Carlyle faces as coach of the Maple Leafs, none may be more difficult than finding a common ground between coach and the immensely talented defenceman, Jake Gardiner.
In a way, it is like having a race horse who needs to be tamed and disciplined.
But without breaking spirit along the way.
An NHL scout, who watched the Leafs first two games in Montreal and Philadelphia called Gardiner’s play erratic through the pre-season and start of the regular season. In the report he filed to his team, he referred to his style of play as “shinny.”
The challenge is both for Carlyle and Gardiner and the trust that needs to be built between them.
Carlyle has to believe in Gardiner to give him more freedom and thus more ice time. Gardiner has to think the game better and adapt more to what the coaching staff wants of him. All this being reminiscent of a great Harry Neale line: “He has to play better to play more or he has to play more to play better.”
It is an unintentional tug of war, but one that needs to be settled for both parties to eventually succeed. The Leafs don’t want to waste Gardiner’s gifts, but there has to be some give and take here.
And if it all works out, the big winner in the end is the hockey club. But there is doubt whether it can work out.