White Rock native, BCHL veteran and pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Jason Garrison was interviewed on Vancouver’s local news radio station "News 1130," today. According to the @News1130Sports Twitter account, he expressed a frank interest in joining the Canucks this offseason, if he can’t close a deal with the Panthers. News 1130 hasn’t uploaded a podcast of the interview yet, but I caught an audio snippet on live radio and I’ll update this post when they do.
Read past the jump for more analysis.
Garrison told News 1130 that he’ll do everything he can to re-up in Florida, but that his agent and the Panthers haven’t spoken of late and that joining the Canucks and playing for his hometown team would be a "thrill."
It’s not particularly surprising that Florida hasn’t been in close touch with Garrison’s camp – they’ve already committed roughly 16 million dollars in cap-space to five defenseman (Campbell, Strachan, Weaver, Jovanovski and Gudbransson) and will still need to sign restricted free agents Dmitry Kulikov and Keaton Ellerby this summer. The team currently possesses rough 23 million dollars in cap-space, and in addition to Kulikov and Ellerby, will likely give Kris Versteeg a significant raise this summer as well. Just looking at their salary structure over at Capgeek, it’s pretty clear that Dale Tallon will be hard-pressed to keep Garrison.
Jason Garrison is coming off of a career year in Miami this season and finished third among all NHL defenseman in goal scoring with 16 tallies (nine of which came on the power-play). He’s also been a rock solid defensive defenseman for a few years now, so that offensive outburst couldn’t have come at a better time for the 27 year old (he’ll turn 28 in November). Garrison is now likely to receive at least a three million dollar raise on the 675k he brought home last season, and he could well get that raise from the Canucks.
Granted, his offensive explosion this past season was percentage driven (he went from shooting 4.5% in 2010-11 to shooting 9.5% in 2011-12), so it’s unlikely to be sustained – but there are reasons to believe that he’s not just this years version of Ville Leino.
In particular, Jason Garrison along with defensive partner and former Canuck Mike Weaver, were Pete DeBoer’s "shut down pairing" for the Panthers in 2010-11, and generally speaking they were excellent. That season Garrison faced by far the highest quality of competition among all Panthers defenseman, started the second lowest proportion of shifts in the offensive zone, and still managed to keep his head above water.
This season, Garrison moved to the right side and was used in a more featured offensive role alongside Brian Campbell. Garrison continued to face top competition, however, he was deployed more often in the offensive zone than the defensive zone and he didn’t just keep his head above water – he drove play. He also capitalized on Brian Campbell’s sweet point-to-point feed and leaned heavily on his hard accurate slapper to score 16 goals (most of them off of one-timers from the point).
Garrison’s gaudy goal totals this past season are something of a mirage and this is not a guy who is going to quarterback an effective NHL power-play, or contribute forty points every season. What he can do, however, is play difficult top-four minutes on either a featured offensive pairing or an efficient shutdown pairing. He can be a fixture on both special teams units, he’s got an absolute bomb and he’s got above average mobility for a defenseman his size. Garrison can also, and this is not a negligible factor, play the point on either the left or the right side successfully.
Whatever team ultimately signs Jason Garrison this offseason will pay a premium because of his offensive success this past season. However, where he’d provide real value to the Canucks (or another team in need of a tough minutes defenseman) is in his two-way play, and his versatility.