As the regular season steadily approaches, some impactful unrestricted free agents are still waiting to get signed by their new teams. But there have been an increasing amount of discussion whether a certain UFA will return to his former team as they try to contend for a Stanley Cup.

Jake Gardiner is in his first summer as an unrestricted free agent and has yet to be signed after a flurry of moves as soon as July 1 hit. Whether it’s finding the right contract or teams being worried about his past back injury, the timeline is growing shorter each day for him to find a roster spot for the upcoming season.

Eliotte Friedman, in an appearance on Tim & Sid, stressed the fact that both sides — Gardiner and the Leafs — both prefer each other over the other options that both parties have. In a perfect world, Gardiner would no doubt be a member of this team when training camp rolls around.

Friedman went on to talk more about the player’s point-of-view. Whether being on a highly-successful team but in a more depth role than he would be somewhere else, is truly beneficial for future contracts. If he’s looking for top dollar on the open market in future years, maybe being another team’s top defenceman and getting a significant amount of time on the power play could play a role in his career earnings down the road.

Reportedly, the Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens, and Winnipeg Jets are teams that have been interested in Gardiner this offseason, with small hints towards the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes as well. But the main theme here is that Gardiner is cautious and knows that he would prefer Toronto over anywhere else.

And why wouldn’t he want to stay in Toronto from a purely team-oriented position? He has been as part of this team for eight years now and played over 550 games for the Leafs. As this team made crucial moves this offseason to try to reach the next step when it comes to winning the Stanley Cup, he would make the group of defenceman better and could be the difference when it comes to being a better defensive team.

It’s true that he could see less power play time and have a diminished role because of the Barrie acquisition, but for the right contract, it would make sense for both the team and player to stay in Toronto and take advantage of this competitive window. Keeping as many good players as you can might seem like an odd statement, but it generally works.

He’s coming out of a season where he was able to roughly score a point every other game, but he was still playing the second-most even-strength minutes on the team.

He’s been an important part as the Leafs transitioned from a laughing stock into a top-tier team in the NHL, so it might be best to keep him around as this team really gets going in the next few seasons.