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Conor Garland’s Future with the Vancouver Canucks – A Keeper

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Vancouver Canucks, Conor Garland
Vancouver Canucks forward Conor Garland hits Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 4, 2021.

So the man has been going through a goal-scoring slump and therefore he gets asked a lot of questions. Concerns have arisen apparently over the future of Vancouver Canucks forward Conor Garland.

They shouldn’t.

Let’s break it down.

First the slump. Garland has gone sixteen games without lighting the lamp. He’s hit a few crossbars and posts along the way, probably just adding to some level of frustration. He last tallied on February 24th during the Canucks 7-1 Blitzkrieg against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena.

“I don’t really think about it, right,” Garland told the media on Wednesday morning before the rematch against the St. Louis Blues. “We have a game tonight, trying to win that, that’s more important than me scoring goals. If I can score and can help us win, that’s nice, that’s the only times I get upset if I don’t score, like the breakaway against Detroit, that’s a big miss for us as a team. The one in Tampa getting called back, that’s a big miss for us. Not burying the one against Buffalo with a minute left, that’s a big miss.

“Goals at important times this part of the year are what matters more, just trying to help us win games,” he concluded.

Maniacal Waterbug

There’s no question about his mental make-up, his competitiveness and his team first approach, the first boxes you want to check with any player. Most NHL’ers check them, but obviously to varying degrees.

“If I have to block three shots tonight and that helps us win I’ll do that, it’s what’s important this time of year” Garland said. “I understand it’s fun to write about not scoring goals, but for me as a player I’m worrying about winning games. So if I can help by scoring goals I’d love to do that, if you can help by getting a puck out late in a game, that’s what you’ll do.”

Let’s compare a couple of right shot Vancouver Canucks forwards. Completely different players on the surface, but not really if viewed strictly from the standpoint of offensive production and where that upside might be in two to three seasons. Whom has the greater potential for all-around growth? Whom is more likely to help your team win games and at what value?

For that, we look at all-around numbers.

Brock Boeser: 63 games played, 38 points, 19 of them goals, 3 below ‘expected’. First power play unit.

Conor Garland: 64 games played, 36 points, 14 of the goals, exactly on ‘expected’. Second power play unit.

Boeser has delivered 30 hits this season and blocked 21 shots while Garland has 47 and 15 respectively. Boeser is plus-8 in the takeaway/giveaway ratio while Garland is plus-11.

Both have excellent shots-for-possession numbers. Boeser owns the best among the Canucks forwards with a Corsi rating at 61%, Garland not far behind at 56%. Do all of the adjusting you want. Fascinating is the archaic statistic that is plus-minus. Boeser minus-7, Garland plus 11.

Those are numbers that are often said don’t take intangibles into effect. One number that does; Garland’s ability to draw penalties.

He’s sixth best in the NHL at drawing penalties against opponents compared to taking penalties with a differential of 36 PIM. His teammate Elias Pettersson is 2nd best in the league (42), behind only Connor McDavid (61) of the Edmonton Oilers. Boeser’s differential is two. Ironically, after earning the penalty call, Garland, a member of the second power play unit, watches Boeser and the first unit come on first.

Price of Admission

Outside of those moments when Thatcher Demko stands on his head, JT Miller scores a dramatic goal or Pettersson exhibits some dangle, Garland is arguably, consistently the most entertaining player on the ice. He’s also Vancouver’s biggest pest. Again, intangibles.

Would you rather have Brock Boeser, age 25, at $7.5-million per year, ultimately to be determined, coming up on Restricted Free Agency, or Conor Garland, age-26, at $4.95-million per season with four years remaining?

Better yet, don’t compare them, because replacing these two involves two completely different conversations. Do you want this 2nd-line winger, at that price, for four more years? Great, sometimes incredible 5-on-5, no penalty kill, limited power play.

We say yes. Clearing cap is somewhat alluring, but finding a replacement for Garland at this stage of his development is perilous and can lead to regrets.

Ultimately the Vancouver Canucks want and need to be harder to play against. Garland is the poster-boy for ‘hard to play against’ in a small package. Find a couple larger versions to compliment him in the line-up and Vancouver might be in business.

VHN Managing Editor Rob Simpson has been covering the NHL for three decades on live TV, radio, and as a journalist. He worked his first ever game getting postgame sound as a teenager; it was Vancouver vs. Detroit.

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