Leafs blueliner Carl Gunnarsson extended his tenure in Toronto by two years, to the tune of 2.6 million
this afternoon, and went on to express his elation via Twitter:
“Thanks everyone. Looking forward to being a Leaf for the next 2 yrs. Love T.O. :)”.
In the absence of longtime Leaf defender Tomas Kaberle, the former 7th rounder stepped in to a more prominent role among a young top four group, seeing his minutes jump considerably. His coach, teammates, and even Burke himself felt his contribution during the final 20-odd games warranted a the confidence shown him. While he struggled at times in the first 60 games, Gunnarsson responded well to the added responsibilities in the last quarter-season.
Considered by most pundits to have been somewhat overlooked and undervalued in Toronto, the 6'2 Swede is capable of playing a low-maintenance, stable brand of hockey marked more by consistency than flash, however Gunner has been known to step in and contribute on the rush with timely pinches. As the confidence increases, he'll evolve into a solid two-way D-man, capable of diffusing pressure in his end with good positioning and moving the puck up-ice in a reliable fashion. Where he factors in the lineup come October remains to be seen, as rumours have circulated since late last February that Leaf management feel a proven puck-lugger on the back end is in order. Burke has often claimed that his ideal defense corps contributes 150 points by year's end. If Phaneuf manages 45-50, that leaves 100 points between the rest of the group. Realistic? Not by my count. If Schenn, Aulie and Gunnarsson, comprising the balance of he top four, were to manage 60 between them that would mean the five and six guys (Komisarek, Lashoff, or Lebda—if he doesn't end up a fixture at Ricoh) need to split fifty points between them. So unless Burke has had a re-think, or feels the cap space needed to secure a second-pairing PMD is needed elsewhere, my suspicion is that a deal for another defenseman is still a consideration...