A stellar two-way defenseman, Herb Gardiner didn't make a name for himself until relatively late in his career. He was proficient at the amateur level in western Canada before traveling east to play in the NHL. Gardiner was a rock on the defense corps of every team he played on, and he was also respected for his consistent play through each season. During the late 1920s, he formed one of hockey's most successful defensive duos with Sylvio Mantha.
Gardiner turned professional in 1921-22 with the Calgary Tigers of the newly created Western Canada Hockey League, where he spent five long but rewarding seasons. He enjoyed his greatest success partnered with future NHLer and league president Red Dutton on defense. In 1924 Gardiner helped the Tigers gain the WCHL crown in a tough series versus Regina. He and Dutton provided stellar work in their own end against the likes of superstars George Hay, Dick Irvin and Barney Stanley. Gardiner scored a key goal in the first match at Regina, which ended in a 2-2 deadlock. The Tigers clinched the total-goals series with a 2-0 win on home ice.
Following this achievement, the Tigers ventured east with the Pacific Coast Hockey Association champion Vancouver Maroons to confront the Montreal Canadiens. Calgary and Montreal disposed of Vancouver, setting up a final in which the Canadiens proved to be too strong. Matched against the speed of Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat, the Tigers lost 6-1. Despite the Tigers' setback, Gardiner made a strong impression on the Montreal management. The most notable feature of the contest from a Calgary perspective was that defensemen Dutton and Gardiner gave no ground to Sprague Cleghorn and Billy Coutu on the winning side.
The following year Calgary succumbed in the Western championships to the Victoria squad that went on to defeat the Canadiens and become the last non-NHL team to win the Stanley Cup. Gardiner was solid once again for the Tigers, but the Cougars were led by superb performances by Frank Frederickson, Jack Walker and netminder Harry Hap Holmes.
Recalling his excellent play two years earlier, the Canadiens invited Gardiner to training camp in 1926. The experienced defender represented a vital addition to the Montreal defensive brigade when he joined the team that year. His play was so impressive with the rebuilding Montreal franchise that he was awarded the Hart Trophy as league MVP - no small achievement, as he beat out New York Rangers superstar Bill Cook to cop the award. During this time, he formed one the NHL's most proficient duos on defense with Sylvio Mantha.
Gardiner was loaned to the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928-29 but was recalled by the Canadiens for the post-season. The following year he was sold to the Boston Bruins, who moved him to the Philadelphia Arrows of the Canadian-American Hockey League as playing coach.
Gardiner adapted well to the additional responsibilities coaching entailed. He remained with the Arrows until 1935-36 before joining Philadelphia's American Hockey League franchise, the Ramblers. Gardiner coached this team to the Calder Cup finals in 1937 and 1939. He concluded his coaching endeavors with the Philadelphia Falcons of the Eastern Hockey League from 1944 to 1946. In 1947 he was named general manager of the Philadelphia Maroons, a proposed NHL franchise that was never realized. As both a defenseman and coach, Gardiner always put his keen understanding of the game to excellent use. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958. When the Philadelphia Flyers entered the NHL in 1967, Ed Snider, owner of the club learned Gardiner was retired and living in the Philadelphia area so he made him the team's first season ticket holder. Still an avid fan of the game, Herb made it to every game he could until his death in 1972.