Paul Gardner was a smart, gifted player who always seemed to be on the threshold of stardom. He was an elusive skater with great natural goal scoring instincts and an accurate shot.
Paul, who came from one of hockey's great families - both his father Cal and younger brother Dave enjoyed long careers in the National Hockey League, was a first round draft pick, 11th overall, of the Kansas City Scouts (who later relocated and became the Colorado Rockies) in 1976. Paul, who came off of an incredible 69 goal and 144 point season with the Oshawa Generals, and stepped directly into the NHL. He scored an impressive 30 goals and 59 points in 60 games in his first year with the Rockies.
Injuries kept Paul to just 46 games in 1977-78, yet he still popped in 30 goals plus 52 points. Paul however took a step backwards in 1978-79. He got into 64 games, but slumped to 23 goals and 49 points. Paul's injury problems persuaded the Rockies moved Paul to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Don Ashby and Trevor Johansen late in that season.
Paul's stay in Toronto was not great. He struggled through the 1979-80 season with just 11 goals in 45 games, and finished the year in the minor leagues. It wasn't until an early season trade in 1980-81 that Paul was able to return to the National Hockey League with the Pittsburgh Penguins
Paul returned with a fantastic roar. He immediately proved he belonged in the NHL. He played in 62 games to finish that season, scoring a career high 74 points. He instantly became a power play expert. With the likes of Rick Kehoe and Randy Carlyle, he tallied 18 power play goals.
Paul registered a career high 36 goals, 21 of which were scored on the power play. However a terrifying injury limited Paul limited to just 59 games. Paul was mugged by Winnipeg's Jimmy Mann. He was never the same once he returned that season.
In 1982-83, Paul was able to make a full recovery. He played in a personal best 70 games. He slowed a step, scoring 28 goals and 55 points. An amazing 20 of his 28 goals came with the man advantage.
Paul got off to a dreadful start in 1983-84, going scoreless in 16 games, and picking up just 5 helpers. He was soon demoted to the minor leagues where he ripped up the American Hockey League. In addition to being a star player, he quickly learned he liked to help out the younger players on the team. It would lead him to a long career of coaching after his playing days were over.
He still had a couple of seasons of playing time before he explored his new passion for the game. He signed one year contracts with the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres in 1984-85 and 1985-86 respectively. Both years he led the AHL in goals and points, and was named as the league's MVP. Both years he made cameo appearances with the NHL clubs. He never picked up any points in 2 games with the Sabres.
Paul went on to serve as a coach and an assistant coach in the American Hockey League, and a scout an assistant coach at the National Hockey League level.
In the NHL, Paul scored 201 goals (105 of which were on the power play) and 402 points in 447 games. Had he been fortunate enough to play more than one full NHL season not limited by injuries, perhaps he could have fulfilled his promise completely.