NHL lockout or not, new Vancouver Canuck defenceman Jason Garrison laces up
As the days slip away and the threat of a National Hockey League lockout draws nearer, new Vancouver Canucks defenceman Jason Garrison finds himself in a difficult position.
On the one hand, the White Rock native who signed a six-year, $27.6-million free-agent contract two months ago desperately wants to start earning those big paycheques by playing for his new team. However, Garrison also knows he has to stand firm with his union brothers, so he fully supports the NHL Players Association in its ongoing battle with the league over how to divide billions of dollars in revenue.
The big blueliner knew a work stoppage was a distinct possibility when he put pen to paper on July 1, but he’s doing his best to remain optimistic even as daylight fades on the realistic hopes of getting a new deal in place before the collective-bargaining agreement expires on September 15.
“I’m super excited about being here, and it makes me extremely anxious to get the season started and to play for the Canucks,” Garrison, 27, tells the Straight in a recent telephone interview. “It was definitely a different summer: first of all with free agency, because I was new to that experience; and then with the potential lockout, I was new to that too; so both of these were things I hadn’t gone through before. But I was an [NHLPA] alternate players rep in Florida for the last couple of years, so it was definitely my job to stay in tune with all that has been going on.”
As the two sides in the dispute remain at odds with little hope for the 2012-13 season to start on time, Garrison remains undeterred. He’s been training hard all summer, hoping for a resolution to the labour issues, and he has recently begun skating with a handful of Canuck players at the University of British Columbia.
Whenever the season begins, Garrison wants to make sure he’s ready to make an immediate impact with his new club.
“Mentally, I’m training and planning on playing on time,” he says. “Although the [threat of a] lockout seems to have hindered some guys’ mindsets, to take it slowly in case things are delayed a little bit, for me it’s important to think that it’s going to start on time, and so I’ve got to put the effort in.”
The hope for Garrison—and the Canucks—is that whenever he throws on the jersey for the first time in game action, he’ll be able to pick up where he left off in a breakout season with the Florida Panthers, finishing third among NHL defencemen with 16 goals, and (second only to fellow B.C. native Shea Weber’s 10) with nine of them coming on the power play. The Canucks would obviously welcome that kind of offensive output from the 6-2, 218-pound blueliner, but it may be a stretch to think he’ll be able to reach that type of production without knowing his role on a new team and in a new system.
But Garrison knows that for the money the Canucks have committed to him, he’ll be expected to take care of business at both ends of the ice. As much as the goals would be a welcome addition, the team needs him to bring a physical element to the defensive side of the game.
In the meantime, Garrison has kept himself busy making public appearances on behalf of the Canucks and getting a firsthand look at what it’ll be like to play in this city.
He received a warm welcome as he and Manny Malhotra represented the hockey club by marching in last month’s Vancouver Pride Parade; he made a number of appearances at the Canucks’ summer hockey school; and, as a former Nanaimo Clipper, he will serve as honorary chairman of the B.C. Hockey League’s season-opening showcase in Chilliwack, September 7 to 9.
“This is a city that I grew up in, and I’ve always told myself that I want to give back as much as I can,” he explains when asked about his community involvement.” “Obviously, it’s special to be able to do it in my home city. Any opportunity that I get to give back or help out, I’m all about it, and I always look forward to doing it.”
But the thing he looks forward to the most is playing hockey, and the toughest part of signing with the team he grew up watching is having to wait patiently for the opportunity to make that childhood dream come true.
The big contract is in place, and Garrison is ready to start this chapter of his career with the Canucks, but now he needs the league and the players association to settle their differences. That may still be a long time coming, though, delaying that moment when he gets to step on the ice at Rogers Arena for the home team for the first time.
“It [becoming a Canuck] definitely hit me when I first signed, when I had a lot of friends and family contact me in the days afterward,” he says. “I think it’s going to hit me again when I get to put on that jersey for the first time for training camp and for games.”
For now, all of that will have to wait. Garrison knows he’ll eventually get to make his Vancouver Canucks debut. Like everyone in hockey these days, he’s just not sure when.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter @patersonjeff.