Canucks Jason Garrison likes this numbers game
Salary figures have soared, but he'll stay humble and focused on the job
It's customary for a player to switch numbers when he switches teams.
However, don't expect Jason Garrison to turn in his No. 52 when he suits up with the Vancouver Canucks next NHL season. After the unrestricted free agent defenceman agreed to a six-year contract Sunday that will have an annual salary cap hit of $4.6-million US to keep in line with the franchise's salary structure, the 27-year-old White Rock native will also keep a reminder to remain humble on his back.
After all, when you rocket from $700,000 US annually with the Florida Panthers to a contract worth $27.6-million, it could be easy to have your head in the clouds and your feet off the ground. Especially after you grew up idolizing the Canucks and hoping to play for your hometown team one day.
"For sure," Garrison said Monday from Chicago, where he attended the NHLPA meetings, a wedding and then sat with agent Matt Oates as free agency unfolded. "The number was given to me my first pro development camp. I'm not too picky with numbers and I get a lot of guys telling me I need to switch, but I haven't given it much thought. It's grown on me a bit."
Garrison is coming off a breakout season and his 16 goals were third among NHL blue liners behind Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson, who had 19 apiece and his nine power-play goals were just one behind Weber, who led that category.
However, after just five goals in 2010-11, several suitors had to be confident that Garrison has taken another development step because the undrafted late-bloomer didn't play junior hockey until age 19 with the BCHL Nanaimo Clippers after his minor hockey days in Burnaby, Aldergrove and Semiahmoo.
And after playing with Mason Raymond at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and then signing with the Panthers, it's been a slow yet steady rise to the point where he set a franchise record for goals by a defenceman in being paired with Brian Campbell on the power play.
He'll likely line up with Alex Edler and get ample opportunity to unload a heavy power-play slapper, some-thing the Canucks will need. Vancouver lost Sami Salo to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a two-year, free-agent deal at $3.75-million annually. They lost in the bidding for Jus-tin Schultz and his fixed entry-level deal, as well as losing free agent depth defenceman Aaron Rome to the Dallas Stars for three years at $1.5 million annually.
"I'm not going to be complacent at all with what happened. I just want to keep developing and get more experience," added the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Garrison, who had 33 points last sea-son. "It [complacency] is not my mindset. I'm looking forward to being a better player each year. I spoke with [general manager] Mike Gillis a little bit prior to signing and talked about the role I play and how it would be a good fit for me. With the way the team is coached, it's a system I can step into and help. I'll play wherever they need me to play."
The transition is going to be easier through familiarity. Aside from Raymond, Garrison played with David Booth, Keith Ballard and Chris Higgins in Florida and chatted with his former college teammate to confirm everything he heard about the Vancouver organization.
"I spoke with Mason just a little bit and we're really good friends," said Garrison. "From Day 1 when we turned pro, we've chatted about everything. You talk to anybody and there's not one bad thing said. In that regard, it's a pretty easy conversation to have. It's a first-class organization with management, coaches and players."
Garrison has been on the Canucks' radar. The hope was that he would do what Dan Hamhuis, Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Kevin Bieksa all did. They took less than market value to remain here with a team that still has a window to win it all. Garrison left money on the table because Dennis Wideman, 29, turned 11 goals and 46 points with the Washington Capitals into a five-year, $26.25-million deal with the Calgary Flames.
"It's not just financially," stressed Garrison, who takes as much pride in his play without the puck. "You want to be on a good team that has a chance to win and that's a big factor. The Canucks are so close to winning and I just want to try and fit in wherever I can. And it's just such a different experience to be a lot closer to my friends and family and playing for a team you watched growing up."
And watching free agency unfold was something that gave Garrison anticipation and some angst.
"It's a long day," he said. "It's pretty crazy and it's the business side of it and how it breaks down. To be with my agent in Chicago and see it first hand, it was all worth it in the end."
The Canucks seem confident they can say the same after losing out on the bidding for Schultz.
"It wasn't after we lost out on Jus-tin Schultz," Gillis said of his Garrison interest. "He was a high priority on our list and we were going to try and sign him after July 1. We wanted size and another guy who could shoot the puck on the power play and we wanted character. He fit the criteria and he had a real desire to play here. I'm confident he has a further upside and that he'll continue to evolve. It's hard to find big, strong defencemen in their prime that you can sign and he's one of them."
As for Rome, he turned 43 games, 10 points and $800,000 into peace of mind. That wasn't going to hap-pen in Vancouver, not as a depth guy at age 28. The Canucks are still $5.3-million under the $70.2-million cap ceiling but have pressing needs up front and need to move goaltender Roberto Luongo.
"What we talked about would have been a tough situation for me to go back to, being I was the extra guy," said Rome.
© Copyright (c) The Province