Mar. 30, 2012; Columbus, OH, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Jason Garrison (52) during the first period against the Florida Panthers at Nationwide Arena. Columbus Blue Jackets won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE
Jason Garrison left money on the table to join his hometown Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. He spoke with SB Nation on Monday.
The former Florida Panthers defenseman grew up in White Rock, which is less than an hour's drive from Rogers Arena, the home of the Canucks.
But when Dennis Wideman signed a big deal with the Calgary Flames last week, speculation was that Garrison's price was only going to rise. Talk of a $6 million annual cap hit was out there, and that was probably too hefty a price for the hometown team to pay.
In the end, it wasn't enough to keep Garrison from heading back home. He signed a six-year deal with the Canucks Sunday night, with reports having the deal worth $27.6 million, a $4.6 million cap hit. That matches Kevin Bieksa for the biggest cap hit on the Vancouver blue line.
"I'm really excited," the soft-spoken Garrison said from Chicago Monday. "I'm really looking forward to playing there. It's something that hasn't quite sunk in yet. It probably will over the next couple weeks."
With Florida, Garrison played 150 games over the last two seasons, scoring 21 goals and notching 51 points. 16 goals and 33 of the total points came last season, as the once-undrafted Garrison, 27, paired with Brian Campbell and posted the best offensive numbers of his career. Along the way, Garrison set a Panthers franchise record for goals in a single season by a defenseman.
Garrison was non-committal when asked if he felt he left money on the table to go to Vancouver, saying "there were different teams, and different contracts. At the end of the day, [Vancouver's] where I wanted to play."
I covered Garrison during his three-year career at the University of Minnesota Duluth. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, he played with a speedy forward prospect named Mason Raymond. The two continue to talk, and Garrison is really looking forward to being teammates with Raymond for the first time since the 2006-2007 UMD season, when Raymond was first-team All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association before turning pro.
"We've talked numerous times," Garrison said. "I get to see 'Mase' a couple times a summer, and obviously once a year when we play (Vancouver vs. Florida). I'm happy to be able to see him more often now."
Along with being "home" and having an old teammate on the team, the Canucks boast a style of play and a roster that Garrison thinks he fits well with.
"The style of play I think is a good fit," Garrison said. "Very fast-paced, obviously super talented up front and on the back end. They're extremely close (to winning a Stanley Cup), so it's just a matter of me trying to fit in and do what I can to help this team out."
Almost immediately after news of the contract broke Sunday, the critics came out of the woodwork on Twitter. Some labeled Garrison a one-year wonder, while others starting dropping comparisons to the ridiculous contract Ville Leino got in Buffalo last year.
I've known Garrison since his freshman year in college, and it's been an absolute treat to watch his work ethic lead to him going from college unknown to legit top-four NHL defenseman.
Sure, his offensive numbers may not be sustainable, unless one of those Canuck defensemen is as good at setting up Garrison's lethal one-time as Campbell was. But before Campbell arrived in Florida, Garrison and Mike Weaver formed a rock-solid defensive pairing on a generally rotten 2010-11 Panthers team (David Booth was minus-31 that season, but Garrison and Weaver combined to be only a minus-one).
For $4.6 million, a quality top-four defenseman with obvious offensive ability is certainly not a Ville Leino contract. It's not even close.
Garrison hears that criticism, and he's not going to let it get to him. He knows Campbell helped him out tremendously, but he'd like to think the relationship worked both ways.
"You hear that, and it's just opinions. You just go out there and play your game."
That said, Garrison will miss having Campbell on the blue line with him.
"I was with him all this week (for his wedding)," Garrison said. "Brian's become a really close friend of mine. We chat on a regular basis."
For now, it's time for Garrison to pack his bags. He's heading home, and he couldn't be happier.