Sometimes best laid fantasy plans don’t pan out. Take the Maple Leafs and Rangers defensemen — this season, poolies grabbed Ryan McDonagh and Morgan Rielly, figuring they’d be in line for career best numbers. Not only did both fall short of lofty expectations, but fantasy attention shifted to Brady Skjei and Jake Gardiner, our Cage Match combatants for this week. Can Skjei and Gardiner continue to rise, or was 2016-17 a fluke season for one or both? Let’s find out – Cage Match starts now!
Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications
Skjei, 23, was drafted 28th overall in 2012; yet didn’t debut in the NHL until late 2015-16. Skjei put up a goose egg in seven regular season contests, then posted two points in five games during the 2015-16 playoffs, with 19:00+ of Ice Time in three games. Despite the departure of Keith Yandle and retirement of Dan Boyle, the Rangers opted not to sign a rearguard in the offseason, so clearly Skjei factored heavily into their 2016-17 plans. And sure enough he skated in 80 games and posted 39 points, with 18 of those points coming in his last 30 games.
Gardiner, 26, was also a first rounder (17th overall), but drafted four years earlier. An NHL mainstay by 2011-12, Gardiner had put up exactly 30 or 31 points in three of his four seasons of 75+ games, leaving many to wonder if that was his ceiling. This season, however, with a vastly improved supporting cast of forwards, Gardiner jumped to 43 points, besting Rielly’s total by 16. Gardiner also had 5-9 points in all but one month of the regular season, giving the Leafs – and poolies – long awaited consistency.
Skjei, despite being 23, will remain on his ELC through 2017-18, with a cap hit of $0.925M. Gardiner’s deal runs through 2018-19, dinging the cap at $4.05M and leaving him an under-30 UFA at completion.
Total Ice Time per game (rank among team’s defensemen)