Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Conor Garland isn’t getting enough credit for being the Canucks’ best even-strength player in 2021/22
1 year ago
Of all the foolish things that have been said about the Vancouver Canucks’ various tradeable assets in the weeks leading up to the 2022 Trade Deadline, one stands out as even foolier than the rest.
An anonymous team executive, speaking through Pierre Lebrun in The Athletic, noted that they thought “Conor Garland should be traded, [because] he makes too much.”
Pardon us? Was that actually a serious statement?
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that the source of this opinion was a team executive, and it’s fairly safe to assume that it was an executive from some team other than the Canucks. In other words, it came from someone who might be interested in acquiring Garland — and driving down the asking price — or, at the very least, might not have the Canucks’ best interests at heart.
But the fact that the statement is being reported out by a prominent journalist and taken any sort of seriously by those in the Canucks’ fanbase is straight-up preposterous.
Garland does not make too much money. If anything, he’s underpaid, because in 2021/22, he’s been the Canucks’ single best even-strength skater.
That’s right: the single best.
Don’t believe us? Let’s look at the evidence.
Starting with the basics, Garland is second on the team in even-strength goals with 13 and even-strength points with 29, trailing JT Miller in both categories (more on that later).
That production comes despite Garland receiving an average of 14:11 in even-strength ice-time per game, 11th most on the team.
That gives Garland an astonishing points-per-60-minutes-of-5v5 of 2.35. That means, for every 60 minutes of even-strength ice-time Garland skates, he’s putting up two-and-a-third points. His G/60 somehow looks even more impressive at a cool 1.01.
In those categories, Garland doesn’t trail anyone at all. Mathematically speaking, no Canuck scores more efficiently at evens, and not that many players on other teams do, either. Garland’s P/60 barely misses the leaguewide top-50 — and, coincidentally enough, is perfectly tied with Carolina Hurricanes superstar Sebastian Aho as of this writing.
Now, the obvious counterpoint to the “per-60” line of arguing is that Garland has only achieved such a pace while playing a second line role, and that he might not score so potently if his minutes were increased. But that’s not necessarily the case.
For one, Garland has been producing at about this same rate for the majority of his career, regardless of his deployment.
And as for his deployment on the Canucks this season, Garland has actually faced some fairly difficult minutes. His most frequent center has been Bo Horvat, which means that Garland has seen his share of defensive zone starts and tough matchups — though he’s only hovering around league average in both regards.
His possession metrics are sparkling across the board.
If anything, Garland has the profile of a player who would score more often if he played more minutes, not fewer. Even if his per-60 rate were to drop off under more intense defensive scrutiny, it may not be as dramatic a decline as some might expect.
It’s all hypothetical anyway; which is to say, who cares? The Canucks don’t really need Garland to play a de facto top line role. Right now, he’s the most efficient option they can throw on the ice at any time, on any line — and that’s basically exactly how they’ve been using him this season.
We’ll get to the elephant in the room now. When we call Garland the Canucks’ best even-strength skater — let’s leave Thatcher Demko out of this one — the obvious bone to pick comes from JT Miller’s corner.
Those 29 even-strength points Garland has? Well, Miller has 37 of ‘em.
Miller only gets about a minute-and-a-half more even-strength ice-time per night than Garland does, and his P/60 isn’t that far behind at 2.04. And he’s doing all that while playing a top line role and facing the most defensive scrutiny the opposition has to offer.
Miller is a beast at evens. No one will dispute that.
Defensive play is a factor worth considering, and in that arena, it isn’t even close.
Garland has been on the ice for 41 EV goals for and only 28 against, giving him an on-ice even-strength goal differential of +13, best on the Canucks and four higher than any other Vancouver forward.
Miller, meanwhile, has been on for 47 EV goals for and 41 against.
We wrote a couple of weeks back about Garland’s penalty-drawing prowess. In brief, he has drawn 24 penalties thus far in 2021/22 and taken only ten of his own, giving him a net penalty differential of +14, currently tied for sixth best in the entire league.
Miller has taken two more penalties than he’s drawn.
Which brings us around to the power play: the primary reason why Miller is, in overall terms, the more valuable player than Garland.
Miller has 29 power play points. Garland has two. And power play points count just as much as even-strength ones do.
But is any of that Garland’s fault, or reason to doubt his worth?
Garland simply hasn’t received much of an opportunity on the man advantage, despite the eye-test suggesting he’d probably be a player who would prove more effective with more room to operate.
He’s received fewer than two power play minutes per game with the Canucks; fewer than special teams luminaries like Alex Chiasson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
That’s not even painting the full picture of his lack of opportunity, because anyone who watches the Canucks regularly can tell you that the second power play unit does not get a fair shake. If they hit the ice at all, it’s usually during the last 30 seconds of a penalty — and almost always after the puck has been dumped down into the Canucks’ own end.
Put him out there with the Millers and the Petterssons and the Hugheses with a guaranteed offensive zone draw, and you’d probably see Garland put up a lot more PP points.
Alas, that’s just not the way it’s been so far. Garland draws the power plays, other people score on them.
But we’re getting away from our central thesis here. Let’s just leave it at this:
There’s an argument to be had that Garland, not Miller, has been the Canucks’ most effective even-strength skater in 2021/22.
And even if you don’t buy that argument, there’s added value in the fact that the Canucks have Garland signed for cheaper and longer.
Which brings us all the way back to the hot take that opened our article.
Garland makes too much money?
Get out of town.
Garland’s salary is one of the best things about him. He clocks in at a $4.95 million cap hit for this season and the four to follow.
Right now, that has Garland ranked as the 132nd-highest paid forward in the NHL, and he’ll slide down the rankings from there as his contract ages.
In just raw scoring, Garland is tied for 129th among NHL forwards, so even by that measure he’s fairly compensated.
Then there’s all the context we just provided about how Garland is actually far more effective than his raw point total would suggest, and how the only thing holding his production back is a lack of opportunity, especially on the power play.
Overpaid? Get real.
In a sport where cost-efficiency is king, Conor Garland is as efficient as it gets.
Recent articles from Stephan Roget