DALLAS — If you live in Vancouver, you know at some point in February the weather will turn magnificent.
It’s the “this is why we live here” day. You know it’s coming. It’s almost spring.
It’s like some things that you know are inevitable in a Canucks season. There’s always going to be a meltdown against Chicago. Fans will always complain about the atmosphere in Rogers Arena. And, it seems, a former Florida Panther is destined to have his role diminished in Vancouver.
This year, it’s Jason Garrison’s turn. He was the Canucks’ big-money free agent acquisition at six years, $27.6 million. He represented a tangible promise this team could be better than last year’s.
No one with an IQ above 80 expected him to match the 16 goals he scored in Florida. But everyone expected him to be on the power play for more than 10 games.
HAS A SALO-LIKE SHOT
He has Sami Salo’s shot, and the hope was he wouldn’t hesitate to use it. The team also believed he could play with Alex Edler, which would allow the Canucks to keep together their defensive pairings with the most chemistry — Keith Ballard with Chris Tanev, and Kevin Bieksa with Dan Hamhuis.
But Garrison has been off the power play for five games. He hasn’t been paired with Edler in 10. He has one goal and one assist on the season. And when coach Alain Vigneault shuffled his blue-line at Wednesday’s practice after its disastrous performance in a 4-3 shootout loss in Chicago, Garrison was on the team’s third pairing with Ballard.
With an $8.8-million cap hit, that’s some third pairing.
“I think he fits in well with our team,” Vigneault said of Garrison. “The only transition he may be having is with some of you people [media], building him up and then being pretty tough on him.
“We’re happy with what he’s bringing ... an honest effort every night and we have no complaints.”
That’s nonsense. Of course, Garrison has been disappointing and it has nothing to do with the media. He acknowledged he’s a work in progress, trying to figure out where he fits in on the Canucks.
'IT'S BEEN A CHALLENGE'
“It’s been a challenge,” Garrison said. “I think any player who comes to a new team is challenged. It’s new for me. I have to start somewhere, find my way in and work my way to being the player I was before.”
He’s not only attempting to figure out life with a new coach and team, he’s coming off an off-season in which he spent six months recovering from a serious groin injury.
“It’s definitely a transition,” Garrison said. “It’s different in every aspect [in Vancouver]. I think for me it’s working as hard as I can and competing each game, just trying to do the little things right, just trying to contribute. It’s been a little bit tougher for me offensively.”
What about playing with Ballard, who was on the right side at Wednesday’s skate?
“I don’t view it as a demotion at all,” Garrison said. “But it’s not where I want to be offensively. But it’s a work in progress, I just have to keep working at it. I’m just trying to keep moving forward and keep learning.”
LOST IN TRANSITION
That doesn’t mean Garrison is a bust. Difficult transitions happen. And it may be healthier to admit it rather than hiding behind the easy “blame the media” card.
Vigneault went through this with Ballard. He kept saying the former Panther was a team-first guy, working hard, who had no issues with how he was being utilized by his coach. Nothing to see here.
Yet, years later, Ballard opened up recently with The Province, explaining how difficult he found that first year in Vancouver and how as a coping tool he added a sports psychologist to his regular training routine.
He’s settled in nicely as a solid, if overpaid by millions, sixth defenceman.
More, of course, is expected of Garrison. No team is going to last long with two bottom-paring blue-liners making more than $4 million a year.
TOO MANY LEFT-HANDERS
The problem for the Canucks with Garrison is they’ve added another left-handed shot who is uncomfortable, and less effective, playing the right side. It’s the same story with Hamhuis, Ballard and Edler.
“[Edler] has always played his best hockey on the left, without a doubt,” Vigneault said. “That has to come into our equation and our decision-making.
“Are we a better team with him on the left and someone else on the right?”
If the answer is yes, Garrison, who said he’s played most of his life on the left, isn’t likely to play again with Edler any time soon.
“Other than not going on the power play and using his shot, [Garrison] has been doing what we expected,” Vigneault said. “He’s a safe, big defenceman who is good one-on-one, that’s got an easy early first pass. We’re happy with the way he’s playing.
“We’ve tried him on the power play, we’ve tried a lot of people there. Right now, we’re going to try to stick with our first unit there and see what happens.”
© Copyright (c) The Province