Jake Gardiner would love to ascend to the level that he found during the Maple Leafs’ brief playoff appearance last spring. But the 23-year-old defenceman is finding it to be a challenge.

“Definitely not there right now but I don’t think anyone is at that level” Gardiner said. “Playing my off-side is something to get used to and playing with a new partner (Paul Ranger) is something to get comfortable with and get that chemistry. I think we have been working toward that but we still need some work.”

Trade rumours involving Gardiner have died down. At an average of 19 minutes 41 seconds a game Gardiner is third in ice time among Leafs defencemen behind Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson.

MULTI-SPORT ATHLETES

On Monday it was ball hockey.

On Wednesday a game of soccer.

Should the Leafs take their tennis racquets to practice on Thursday? Maybe their golf clubs?

Coach Randy Carlyle has kept it light for his 7-3 club this week using different methods to put his group in a relaxed setting.

The Leafs figured they would be practising on Wednesday but when they arrived at the MasterCard Centre they were told by Carlyle to head to a nearby soccer field for a game against each other.

“Loved it” said forward Nazem Kadri who played competitive soccer as a kid. “Especially when you come to the rink expecting to practise or to have a hard workout. I think I sweated just as much out there as I would on the ice. It was nice for Randy to come in and blow off some steam and put everything aside for a day and have some fun.”

David Clarkson who has spent more time practising than anyone else in the past three weeks concurred.

“I didn’t score some goals so it was disappointing” Clarkson said with a smile. “(Tyler) Bozak was pretty good. (James) Reimer was pretty good too.

“It was a good day where guys got some time to let loose and have some fun out there on the soccer field. I thought it was a great idea from the coaching staff.”

Carlyle wasn’t available to the media on Wednesday.

SUPPORT FOR LEIVO

With Clarkson’s 10-game suspension done the Leafs returned winger Josh Leivo to the Toronto Marlies on Tuesday. But we haven’t seen the last of Leivo in a Leafs uniform this season considering he fit in nicely in six games scoring a goal and recording an assist.

“He is a good player definitely knows his way around the rink and I am sure you will be seeing him back up here shortly” Kadri said. “Some areas are pretty tough to kind of get a grasp on but for Josh I think he is just a smart player and understands puck management. That is the most important thing when you are playing up in the NHL not to have crucial turnovers in crucial areas. It is one part of the game he understands and as long as he keeps working on it he will be back up.”