The Canucks signed Jason Garrison the other day to a whopping 6 year $27.6 million deal. The response in the hours and days afterwards have been all over the map. Some see this as a gross overpayment of a player that had one lucky season, others see it as a case of the Canucks getting a player for less money than he could have had elsewhere. So where does the truth lie?
I have to admit, my initial reaction to this deal was mixed. After hearing the news that the Canucks had lost Sami Salo, they had to do something. They couldn’t afford to enter the season with Keith Ballard penciled in as their #4 defenceman. But making Jason Garrison, a player most people had never heard of before last season, their highest paid defenceman? That seemed like a bit much.
I first heard of Jason Garrison last season, when deciding which free agent defenceman to pick-up in my hockey pool. I never picked him up. I researched him, saw that he was undrafted and wasn’t a huge scorer in the AHL or when he played in college. I figured he was some schmo on a hot streak, just like Aaron Rome.
I never picked up Garrison for my hockey pool, and it was a mistake. Garrison just continued to score goal after goal after goal. He ended up with 16 of them actually, which put him third in the league among d-men. Points-wise, he had only 33 points, fewer than Dan Hamhuis had.
Garrison’s point output from last season is well known. Everything else about him isn’t. Even the great Ed Willes from the Province doesn’t seem to know much about him:
Jason Garrison turns 28 in November. He enjoyed a breakout campaign with the Florida Panthers (16-17-33 in 77 games) in 2011-12. Prior to that, he was a depth player on a bad team.
This is the perception of Jason Garrison, but it’s misleading. For one, Garrison was more than a offensive defenceman for the Panthers last season. He was second on the Panthers among defencemen in average ice time at 23:41 per game. He averaged only 2:31 per game on the power play (third among Panthers d-men) and 2:34 on the penalty kill (second among Panthers d-men). These are not the numbers of a player who just collects points on the power play because of a good slap shot (though he did get 9 of his 16 goals with the man advantage).
And what about Willes’ contention that prior to last season Garrison was a depth player on a bad team? Well, the Panthers were certainly bad, and nobody had heard of Garrison, but to say he was a bad player is grossly unfair. Two years ago Garrison was actually the Panthers go-to defenceman. He led Florida d-men in ice time in 2010-11, so he could hardly be considered a depth player.
Garrison scored goals last year, but I’m skeptical that can be relied upon. Sometimes players with big booming shots have the stars align. That’s what happened with Adrian Aucoin when he was a member of the Canucks in 1998-99. That year Aucoin scored 23 goals! In his long career, the next highest total he achieved was 13.
So is Garrison worth the money? If he plays like the player he was last season, he’s a bargain. If he plays like a legitimate top four defenceman, who can play against other teams’ top players and excels, he’ll also be worth the money. Perhaps Garrison can be like Adrian Aucoin. Even though Aucoin never got close to equaling 23 goals again in his career, he turned into a reliable #2 defenceman that was good in both ends of the rink.
I think that Garrison is full marks for his last two seasons in the NHL, but I’m still nervous about this signing. He’s had two good seasons in the NHL by age 28 but has earned a 6 year contract. That kind of reminds me of Jeff Finger. I just don’t think Garrison has accomplished enough to warrant such a long contract. I hope Mike Gillis proves me wrong, but he has hitched his wagon long term to a player who has really only had two good seasons.