Reflecting on Jason Garrison’s Absence in Florida

Already over a quarter of the way through the 2013 NHL season and the Florida Panthers still have several glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed. The most notable of these ailments has been their inability to keep opponents from piling up goals – currently allowing an NHL-worst 3.63 goals per game on average.

This new found ineptitude has been a remarkable turn around from the team that only allowed 2.63 goals per game on average just a season ago, especially considering that almost the entire starting defensive unit from last season returned, all except one – Jason Garrison.

After having a spectacular season last year with the Panthers, Jason Garrison left for greener pastures when he signed a 6-year $26.7 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks. Although the Panthers have never been known to break the bank on player contracts, perhaps the team should have taken a risk on a 28-year old defenseman who was coming off the best season of his career.

Although the loss of Garrison has clearly been felt on the Panthers’ blue line this season, fans have still been downplaying his departure due to the fact that he has yet to put up quality numbers this season in Vancouver. While it is true that Garrison isn’t lighting up score sheets every night, it is unfair to think that his play this season has any bearing on how he would be doing if he had remained in Florida. After spending some time reviewing the Panthers’ defensive woes and Garrison’s own statistics, I have compiled my reasons why Panthers’ fans shouldn’t be so quick to downplay Garrison’s absence.

Stats May Be Deceiving

Through 19 games this season, Jason Garrison has only been able to accumulate 4 points and has been considered a let down to this point. However, I do not believe that Garrison’s point totals aptly reflect his performance, nor do I believe that his statistics this season should apply to how he would be playing if he had stayed in Florida.

Since I don’t believe that simple point totals are enough to show a players worth, I decided to crunch the numbers and look at bit closer at Garrison’s performance – here were the results I found.

*Statistics as of February 28, 2013

Season Points Per Game Avg. TOI PP TOI/G Shot %
2012-2013 0.21 21:19 2.37 9.40%
2011-2012 0.43 23:41 2.31 9.50%

As you can see, Garrison is in fact averaging roughly half a point less per game than he did last season with the Panthers. However, you will also notice that Garrison is also averaging 2:22 minutes of ice time less per game – yet he still has about the same shot percentage.

So now you ask yourself, what do all of these statistics mean?

Well, the best reason I can give for Garrison’s enigmatic numbers is that it is not Garrison’s play that has diminished, but rather his role on the ice. During his time with the Panthers last season, Garrison was the team’s go-to scoring option on the power play and a top line defenseman alongside Brian Campbell. With the Vancouver Canucks this season, Garrison has been the team’s 4th option on defense behind Canucks’ mainstays – Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Alexander Edler.

With the Panthers, Garrison did most of his offensive damaged on the power play –  in fact 20 of his 33 points last season came when the Panthers’ were up a man. However, on a team like the Canucks with lethal snipers and other skilled defensive scorers like Edler, Garrison’s presence on the power play is less of a necessity and more of a luxury.

It’s safe to say that if Garrison were still in Florida and as relied upon as he was last season that his numbers would most certainly be better than they are right now. Although this is speculation and a player will inevitably be judged by his overall point totals, I do believe that Garrison’s numbers in Vancouver should have no bearing on how he could have played this season for the Panthers.

Filip Kuba

Ottawa Senator - Filip Kuba - Photo by Andy Martin Jr

Ottawa Senator – Filip Kuba – Photo by Andy Martin Jr

After the departure of Jason Garrison, the Panthers didn’t take long to find his replacement via the free agent market.  On July 1, 2012 the Panthers waved goodbye to Garrison and said hello to his replacement – former Ottawa Senators defenseman Filip Kuba.

After scoring an impressive 33 points last season while playing alongside 2012 Norris Trophy Winner Erik Karlsson, the Panthers decided that Kuba would be a suitable replacement for Garrison, signing him for $8 million over 2 years. Unfortunately for the Cats, the version of Filip Kuba that they received does not resemble the one that played so well in Ottawa last season

In 17 games this season, Kuba has only been able to record 3 points and has been unimpressive in his defensive efforts – leading to a -10 rating thus far. Although the entire Panthers’ defensive unit looked questionable throughout the early stages of this season, Kuba has been steadily a non-factor in most games and has even taken a few costly penalties, one of which directly resulted in a Panthers’ loss.

The fact that Kuba is making $4,000,000 this  season will make most Panthers’ fans cringe as he has clearly not paid up to or anywhere near his lofty price tag. It is true that both Garrison and Kuba are overpaid this season, but at least with Garrison we knew what we were getting.

Looking Ahead

While it’s easy for me to dissect statistics and evaluate player performances, the fact remains that we will never know just how different the Panthers would look this season if Jason Garrison were still with the club. However, I hope my argument has swayed some Garrison dissenters to give him credit as a would-be important piece of this year’s defense as well as to not be so quick to downplay his absence from the blue line.

Although the Panthers have never jumped at the chance to break the bank, the team still could have afforded to invest in Garrison long term and give him a similar multi-year deal that he received from the Canucks. At the start of the 2014-2015 season the Panthers will only have two defenseman under contract – Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski. Additionally, considering Jovanovski’s age and recent decline in play, there is no guarantee that he will even finish out his current contract with the team.

The Panthers actually did themselves a disservice when they signed Ed Jovanovski for $4.25 million per season. Considering his declining play and minutes, it’s not unthinkable for players like Garrison to expect a similar contract, if not a better one.

With the Panthers’ currently lacking young exceptional skaters at the defensive position, we will have to wait to see if the negative effects of Garrison’s departure will continue to be felt years from now. However, at this point in the season, as our team continues to allow opponents to score an absurd about of goals I find myself more and more missing Garrison’s reliability on the blue – an idea that I once scoffed at, now a no brainer.

Follow Jameson on Twitter @JamesonCoop

Jameson Cooper

Jameson Cooper

An English major with a passion for pucks, Jameson has been a credentialed media member covering the Florida Panthers for Panther Parkway since the 2012-2013 season. Although his focus rests mainly with Panther Parkway, Jameson still contributes occasionally to the Sunbelt Hockey Journal. Through player interviews and discussions it's his goal to help bring players closer to their fans through interesting stories and personal pieces. With a unique brand of humor and insight, Jameson looks to provide hockey fans with articles that not only entertain, but also educate.
Jameson Cooper
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