Jason Garrison and the Ghost of Keith Ballard

Thomas Drance
January 30 2013 09:51AM

It didn't take long for Canucks fans to begin sharpening their knives, in anticipation of carving up White Rock native and this summer's big free-agent acquisition Jason Garrison. Jason Garrison gave the perpetually dour and fatalistic faithful a reason to start too on Sunday when he fumbled a clearing attempt directly to Joe Thornton that ended up in the back of Vancouver's net, and again on Monday when he whiffed on a point shot, fell over and allowed Dustin Brown to breakout the other way (for a two-on-one that Jordan Schroeder and Alex Edler expertly foiled).

Those two sequnces when combined with the repeated sound of Garrison's zippy point blasts hitting the boards behind the net after a missed shot, have resulted in the newly minted Canucks defenseman burning through his "good local boy makes good (too bad he wasn't a Vancouver Giant)" honeymoon in record time.

Obviously judging a defenseman's performance using only your eyes and your emotional overreaction to a couple of relatively minor in-game errors is stupid as hell (no need to sugar coat it),  though I suppose on some level it's understandable especially when one considers the ghost of Keith Ballard and the mixed legacy of former Florida Panthers skaters acquired by Mike Gillis. 

Read on past the jump.

So here are the facts on Jason Garrison's slow start to the season. His performance has been mixed through six games, I think that's fair to say, as the defenseman is yet to record a point, has looked uncomfortable on the sputtering first power-play unit and has struggled with the accuracy of his heavy point shot.

Now a season ago, Jason Garrison scored nine power-play goals and sixteen goals overall - gaudy totals to be sure - but those numbers were reflecive, at least in part, of a massive spike in his personal shooting percentage. Based on Jason Garrison's steady even-strength scoring clip over the past few seasons, I think one can make the case that Garrison's outlier season in '11-12 does, to some extent, reflect him finding a higher level of performance in terms of his goal production. But he's still probably not going to finish in the top-five in the league in goals by a defenseman with any consistency, but that's fine, because that's not really what he's being paid for (though if you're going to take a regular power-play shift with the Sedin twins, you need to produce some offense).

As for Garrison's shot accuracy, I've noticed him putting the puck wide frequently personally, but looking over the data at NHL.com and Behindthenet.ca, the numbers don't really bear that impression out. At even-strength this season, for example, Jason Garrison has attempted twelve shots - seven of which have resulted in saves by the opposition goaltender and five of which have resulted in Garrison "missing the net" (this includes the post he hit in San Jose on Sunday).

As a comparison, Alex Edler has also attempted twelve even-strength shots this season and has similarly hit the net with seven of them while missing the goal on five shots. I wonder if the fact that one of Edler's shots found its way through a goaltender is skewing perception that much (my guess is it probably is).

Really the main negative thing I have to say about Jason Garrison's performance in the early going this season is that he's looked like a fish out of water on the first unit-powerplay. But I'd cut him some slack here considering that the Canucks had a one week training camp and no preseason games, so Garrison hasn't had much time to become familiar with his teammates or the system. Some people have pointed out that Jason Garrison's presence on the first unit gives the Canucks no right-handed point shot which, eliminates the "d-to-d one timer" from the power-play arsenal. But the most productive Canucks power-play unit of my life-time (and it's not even close) consisted of two left-shooting point men in Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler.

Now, Jason Garrison isn't the skater or the playmaker that Christian Ehrhoff is, but we already knew that prior to this season. He is however, probably a better pure shooter than Alex Edler is and Edler's skating and skill level are certainly in the same league as Ehrhoff's (I'd say Ehrhoff is somewhat faster while Edler is slightly more skilled). You'll recall that in 2010-11 Newell Brown deployed Ehrhoff as something of a "freelancer" on Vancouver's modified umbrella power-play formation. Edler was the lone "point man" and the designated shooter (though Ehrhoff and the Sedins would all occassionally rotate to the point). What's odd to me is that Jason Garrison has spent a lot of power-play time at the top of the right circle - where Ehrhoff used to play as the "romer" - rather than being placed at the umbrella's nub as the designated shoter.

I'd bet there's a good reason for that, like perhaps Jason Garrison is being slotted into the least structured position on the first unit power-play to try and ease him into the system, and Newell Brown's track record is solid enough that I trust him to figure it out. But this is a very qualified criticism of Garrison's performance, and I think going any further than it is pretty much uncalled for.

The failed clearing attempt to Thornton aside, Jason Garrison has been mostly dynamite in his own end at five-on-five. He's only been on the ice for two goals against this season, is posting stellar possession rates and has brought a physical presence on the back-end (did you not see that hit he threw on Kopitar behind the net on Sunday?). At five-on-five he's already a clear upgrade over beloved, departed veteran Sami Salo.

Still, over at CanucksCorner, Raymond Kirk writes the following:

[Garrison's] play has, quite frankly, been terrible, especially the final two games in the road trip. The much heralded big shot has hit the net with less frequency than the popular (and missed by many) Sami Salo, and defensive zone play has been equally as spotty. Granted, it’s early, but I’m sensing that many are seeing the same similarities here in Garrison’s beginnings with Vancouver as we saw with the aforementioned Keith Ballard when he made his much anticipated and much scrutinized Canucks debut.

Which is really what this comes down too, I think: the ghost of Keith Ballard, and to a lesser extent David Booth. Keith Ballard's time in Vancouver has been uniquely unproductive for both parties, while Booth pisses off Canucks fans like a blue Brad Marchand, despite being a useful player (whose absence is very much noticeable early this season). Three former Panthers, all different people, all having their own unique issues adjusting to playing with the Canucks. Lumping them together might be tempting, but it's analytically meaningless because Jason Garrison, thankfully, isn't Keith Ballard.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Joel
January 30 2013, 10:16AM
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I think we only really need to worry about Garrison if he starts trying to take off Schneider's head with a two handed slash ;-)

Good read, and really I don't see why people are getting so freaked out.

About Garrison specifically, you've made the point repeatedly but fans just aren't getting it (or aren't getting their Canucks analysis here for some reason) that Garrison is going to have make big adjustments to come to the Canucks, learn the new systems without a training camp, learn how to play with the Sedins, etc.

Ditto Edler moving to his off-side.

The Canucks staff, and reasonable, knowledgeable fans (they are a rare breed), fully expected there to be growing pains.

On a team basis...

Are the Canucks blowing 2-0 leads with regularity? Yep.

Are they still a 0.500 team (go loser points!) and in playoff position? Yes.

Do we have a Selke center and a good second line winger on injury reserve, plus a massive amount of cap space tied up in goal until the Luongo situation is resolved? Big yes.

While I would like to see the team close out those 2-0 leads, I didn't expect anything more than 0.500 hockey and hanging around in the playoff picture for the first 15-25 games.

Likewise, I'm sure we will see people bitching that Kesler and Booth aren't dominant players scoring hat tricks as soon as they step off injured reserve in a month or so.

Realistically, this team is going to add a full line of forwards (Kesler, Booth and probably Jensen once his SEL team is done) by the trade deadline, plus whatever Gillis gets back from Luongo. And hell, Gillis might go big at the trade deadline (Iginla? I can dream, right?)

If they can tread water until then and avoid major injuries, I'm happy.

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#2 Joel
January 30 2013, 10:22AM
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@Joel

PS. Garrison is already an upgrade over Salo, because I don't cringe and expect a major injury whenever he goes into the corner or takes a hit.

I loved Salo when he was healthy, but even if Garrison was playing at 80% of Salo's level, I'd take that for 82 games and a (hopefully) long playoff run over Salo playing his usual 65 games and then being walking wounded all spring.

As much as Luongo is the scapegoat for the 2011 SCF loss, and the earlier losses to the Hawks in preceding years, injuries and attrition were a huge factor that the casual fan (and most media) tend to overlook.

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#4 Squibbles
January 30 2013, 11:24AM
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To me it seems like Garrison's issues are mostly related to not being familiar with the team. The problems I've most noticed from him have been things like passes on the PP going to where he should have been instead of where he ended up for some reason. He's seemed a little out of sync with the team. I'm certainly hopeful that he'll sync up sooner rather than later.

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#5 Joel
January 30 2013, 12:25PM
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@Thomas Drance

You'd think people would be used to Kesler coming back injured and taking time to get back up to speed mid-season, but I'm sure we will have callers on 1040 and certain media ***cough***Gallagher***cough*** ripping him after 2-3 games for being a step behind when he does come back.

Afterall, the man has been resting for almost 8 months, so he should be well rested and able to jump right back into leading the forwards in even strength TOI, being on the top PP unit and top PK pairing, all while being on a 40 goal pace, right?

Anything less and its panic time. Especially if Luo has been traded already and we don't have a goalie controversy to stew over...

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#6 Arnold Jamtart
January 30 2013, 01:14PM
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For what it's worth, I like Garrison in the "roamer" role. In the little I've seen him play, he seems to have good offensive zone instincts -- he looks like someone who has played enough as a forward at a high level that he can play in that zone like a forward when an opportunity presents itself. Between that and his howitzer, I would not want to be the winger covering his point.

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#8 Nat
January 30 2013, 02:11PM
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"perpetually dour and fatalistic faithful"

It's kinda sad how true this is. And I like to think of myself as a logical/level-headed fan, but our history has conditioned me to also fear failure around every corner. It's not sensible, it just is.

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#9 K
January 30 2013, 02:30PM
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Nice dig at Ballard you tool. Bally has been playing great since the king series when he came back from a concussion. Fool. Oh and he also played on the first unit powerplay last night and didn't make any mistakes. Garrison has been awful in six games so far, hopefully he can improve.

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