Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Conor Garland’s Jekyll-and-Hyde campaign still makes him one of the better Canucks wingers
By Michael Liu9 months ago
It’s the classic case of a good player, a good contract, but the wrong timing.
Conor Garland was not the same player as he was in 2021-22. That much is for certain. Though his total of 17 goals and 46 points wasn’t too far off of the 19-goal, 52-point effort from the season prior, the way in which Garland got to that point felt like night and day.
Even so, with being shuffled up and down the lineup, getting very little power play time with the second unit, and playing alongside centres that aren’t exactly known for their play-driving ability, Garland was able to rack up 5v5 points as he always does. It’s why he’s still a valuable player, and why he is surrounded by trade rumours this offseason.
Putting those trade talks aside, here’s a look at how Garland’s 2022-23 season shaped up.
Inconsistency the overarching theme
Garland was always a streaky scorer, and this season just seemed to exacerbate that perception of him. For whatever reason, the winger just didn’t look like himself to start the year. Not being able to get into the dirty areas, his puck retention ability going missing. Garland seemed to gain the zone, peel off to the boards, then lose the puck to the opposing team. Not great, and certainly not the proactive and aggressive winger that fans saw the year prior.
At his worst, Garland went 17 games without scoring a goal, as well as a separate 10-game goalless streak prior to his hat trick in the final game. There were 5 separate stretches of goal droughts spanning over 5 games for Garland this year, giving an idea of just how sparse his goal production was.
Granted, some of this can be explained by how Garland was deployed this year. Most of the time, the winger got bumped throughout the lineup, playing away from the likes of JT Miller in favour of Sheldon Dries or Jack Studnicka. Garland did spend the 482:25 TOI with Miller, but also spent 305:51 with Bo Horvat and 298:55 with Dries. It tells the story of a player who was shuffled up and down to try and find a fit, and not getting the best of results.
He mostly cemented a role for himself on the third line, but Garland was seriously struggling early on in that slot. At one point in December, the analytics darling saw his stock plummet to the ground as the worst forward the Canucks had by most metrics at 5v5 play. The juxtaposition of this was especially jarring considering how good he was at even strength last year.
Garland had his TOI average dropped from 16:24 to 15:07 this year. Some nights, he saw single digits in ice time. Other nights, he was given 20. The wild variability in his time on ice might’ve contributed to the sense that Garland never quite settled in this season, unable to find a groove even without his shots going in. His 10.2 shooting percentage this year is barely above league average, which isn’t what the Canucks are hoping to get out of a player making $4.95 million.
What makes this somewhat frustrating is that we’ve seen a Conor Garland who’s confident and taking the chances that are coming to him. We got a front-row seat to that in the final game against the Coyotes, where he recorded a hat trick and the overtime winner. Perhaps the way that he was used this season affected him, but it appears to only be a contributing factor to how inconsistent Garland was throughout the year, regardless of the coach behind the bench.
It just didn’t feel like this was the right time for Garland to be on this team. There isn’t a clear-cut spot that he can fill based on how this roster is constructed. Sure, he should probably be alongside Miller on the 1b line, but then how would that complement Brock Boeser on the other wing? Then, there’s the possibility that one of Vasily Podkolzin or Nils Höglander pushes him down the lineup, and it becomes a full loop back to where he started. And for the production that Garland is bringing (albeit from a reduced role), it doesn’t seem to justify the second-line deployment that he would get.
Boudreau vs Tocchet
Earlier into Tocchet’s reign, I wrote a piece about Garland’s uptick in numbers under his old/new bench boss. It was a small sample size, and with a half-season worth of data, it appears that there wasn’t much of an impact made, if at all. Garland was marginally better across all of his advanced stats, to the point where it could be chalked up to playing against softer competition.
What is markedly different is Tocchet’s attitude towards Garland, and how the player respects his coach a lot more. Garland has said multiple times that he enjoys playing under Tocchet, and seemed to be more engaged when the new regime was put into place. As for the coach, Tocchet has spoke glowingly of Garland before: “for his size, he plays with his heart.”
Even with all of this inconsistency and marginal improvements considered, Garland remained one of the best options the Canucks had at 5v5. Through the two seasons he’s been in Vancouver, the winger has the second-most 5v5 points with much less ice time than Elias Pettersson in first. It’s an invaluable option to have on a team that struggles to do much at even strength.
If he does stick around, it would be interesting to see if any progression is made under a full season with Tocchet at the helm. But the question still remains about where Garland would play. Vancouver has a log jam on the wings with a bunch of borderline top 6 and solid middle 6 options. Anthony Beauvillier looked good alongside Andrei Kuzmenko and Elias Pettersson late in the season. Ilya Mikheyev will be returning from injury. Hoglander and Podkolzin will be looking to make pushes up the lineup. Even someone like Vitali Kravtsov (if he’s resigned) could replace Garland on the third line. Can he be better than all of those options? Especially with his cap hit, the noise about Garland being moved out has just grown and grown. In a vacuum, his deal is fine, but as soon as the context of the Canucks are applied, then the conundrum only grows.
It’s hard to say, given the up-and-down year that the American has had. A streaky goal-scorer was streaky, and given some tough circumstances to overcome. Regardless, Garland still was one of the best forwards on the Canucks’ roster. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is left up for interpretation.
Recent articles from Michael Liu