by Joe Tasca on 03/13/13 at 06:00 PM ET
Despite earning a spot on the NHL's all-rookie team last season, Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner has spent virtually the entire season with the team's minor-league affiliate. That's not sitting well with his agent Ben Hankinson:
Hankinson tweeted his displeasure with Gardiner's absence from the Leafs lineup following Toronto's 5-2 defeat at Winnipeg Tuesday night, completing their first three-game losing streak of the season.
"#FreeJakeGardiner," Hankinson tweeted before immediately being repeated close to 500 times by NHL enthusiasts.
Not surprisingly, Gardiner took the high road when asked to respond to Hankinson's ill-advised tweet:
“It’s just my agent’s thoughts and his choice to tweet that,” Gardiner told reporters following the Toronto Marlies’ morning skate on Wednesday.
“There are always different opinions. I don’t think he meant any harm by it. I think he was just expressing his opinion.”
Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins says it makes more sense for Hankinson to keep his opinions to himself:
“That’s the one thing from his agent’s point of view, I’m not sure how well thought it was. Jake’s got a game today [the Marlies host Lake Erie at 7 p.m. ET]. [Jake] and I have a plan in place for how we’re trying to get him back to the NHL and part of the plan is for him to be the best player on the ice every day and to do that you have to be mentally free of everything and only to be worrying about the game. So we’ve got a little noise going on."
The fact of the matter is Hankinson has every right to privately go to bat for his client. But to use Twitter as a platform to imply that Jake Gardiner is somehow imprisoned in the minor leagues is preposterous. He's a 22-year-old defenseman trying to prove that he can be a reliable professional hockey player for years to come. Scoring 30 points and recording a minus-2 rating on a dirtbag team in your rookie season proves no such thing.
Clearly, Hankinson's tweet shows he believes his client not only deserves, but is, in fact, entitled, to play with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unfortunately, regardless of Gardiner's ability, nobody is entitled to play in the NHL. Ben Hankinson, of all people, should understand that quite well. He spent all but 43 games of his pro career, which lasted seven seasons, in the minor leagues.
That's what makes Hankinson's comment all the more puzzling. Not only did he make his client look bad, but he blatantly insulted the slew of current NHL players who toiled in the minors for years before reaching the top of the mountain, not to mention the guys who are still climbing.
Like Gardiner, Toronto center Nazem Kadri was a first round draft pick. He spent the majority of the past two-and-a-half seasons in the minors, working toward his goal of becoming a full-time NHL'er. Of course, Kadri didn't particularly enjoy the demotion, but he took it in stride, honed his game, and it's paying off in spades this year. Maple Leaf management has learned from years of past mistakes, and it's quite obvious the team no longer has any intentions of rushing its young players to the big show.
Gardiner's time will come. Undoubtedly, he'll have a much lengthier NHL career than his agent. In the meantime, he should enjoy his time on the farm and use it as a learning experience, not just as a player, but as a man.
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About Tasca's Take
Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.
Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.