On Jason Garrison, AV’s dog mansion, and why the defence pairs saw the blender

When I asked how long the current Canucks’ defence pairings would last on Tuesday, I didn’t expect the answer to be “less than a day.” But I did suggest that at the first sign of trouble, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa would be immediately reunited, and Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks was trouble (with a capital T, which rhymes with D and that stands for Defence).

The sheer number of breakaways and odd-man rushes given up by the Canucks ensured that something would change on the backend and, sure enough, word came out of practice Wednesday morning that all three defence pairings had been switched up.

As expected, Hamhuis and Bieksa were reunited — tearfully, probably — but the Canucks didn’t just reset everything back to the way it was at the start of the season. Jason Garrison, the Canucks’ biggest free agent acquisition, was moved down to the third pairing with Keith Ballard, while Chris Tanev was promoted to the second pairing with Alex Edler.

Since Garrison is being paid a lot of money, seeing him on the third pairing is causing some consternation in Canucks nation. Has he joined Keith Ballard in a lavish, $8 million doghouse, a dog mansion, if you will? Not exactly. His demotion isn’t just about how he’s been playing, but how the entire defence corps has been playing.

While I have liked Garrison’s overall game, it’s certainly true that he has struggled at times to start the season. Personally, I don’t think those struggles are anything to worry about just yet. We’ve talked about players acquired from Florida needing to be deprogrammed in the past, but that’s just a way of saying that the Canucks tend to play a very different system from the Panthers and it’s a system that takes some adjusting.

Kevin Woodley spoke to Garrison before the Canucks headed out on their current road trip, and he expressed that exact thought: Garrison is still thinking too much about adhering to the new system rather than playing by instinct. This should be completely understandable, as there was barely any training camp and no pre-season, making it difficult to make a quick adjustment.

Adapting to a new powerplay scheme is also tremendously difficult, so it’s no surprise that Garrison didn’t last long on the top unit. With more time in practice, he should be able to find his way back onto the powerplay, but the Canucks don’t have a lot of practice time with the condensed schedule. Luckily, he’s signed here for several years!

Interestingly, moving to the third pairing means that one of Garrison or Ballard will need to play on the right side and it appears that it’s going to be Ballard. When Garrison was signed, we expected him to play on Edler’s right side, but he is evidently far more comfortable on the left. It’s disappointing that Garrison hasn’t been flexible on this — although it would be a lot to ask him to play his off-side in a system he’s not fully comfortable with — but it’s encouraging to see Ballard being more flexible about playing on the right.

One of my theories as to why Ballard found his way into Alain Vigneault’s doghouse is that he wasn’t flexible with shifting to his right, making it difficult for Vigneault to juggle the lineup without juggling him right out of it. With Ballard’s improved play this season and, now, perhaps, a newfound flexibility, it makes it a lot easier for Vigneault to experiment.

One of those experiments is moving Tanev into the top-four. It’s a tremendous opportunity for Tanev and one that makes sense. It allows Edler to move back to the left side, even temporarily, which should settle down his defensive game. While the Canucks likely want Edler to get comfortable on the right side long-term, particularly with the number of left-side defencemen that they have signed to big contracts, returning him to the left side when he is struggling seems reasonable.

Finally, reuniting Hamhuis and Bieksa should go a long way towards settling down Bieksa’s game. Bieksa has arguably been the defenceman struggling the most so far this season, and the advanced statistics bear this out. Thomas Drance over at Canucks Army did a great job covering most of the angles of the line juggling on defence, including the advanced statistics of the top-six, which show Bieksa at the bottom of the Canucks’ ranks in terms of puck possession.

Drance theorizes that Garrison’s demotion is less about Garrison and more about stabilizing Bieksa, which is exactly what I was thinking. That terrifies me, because if Drance has developed psychic powers, we are all doomed.

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23 comments

  1. Sarah
    February 21, 2013

    Is Ballard still in the dog-house? It seems from watching this season so far that he’s at least been taken to an off-leash park.

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    • The Bookie
      February 21, 2013

      He might have gotten into the garbage again.

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  2. zach
    February 21, 2013

    all I have to say about this, is THANK GOD EDLER IS BACK ON THE LEFT SIDE. seriously I was getting pretty annoyed watching him awkwardly handle the puck on the right hand side and frequently cough it up along the boards with soft zone clearing attempts. However, understandable because he was on his off side, and I really think he can be a staple of the d corps when he is on the left.

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  3. JDM
    February 21, 2013

    Are you sure Alex Edler wasn’t moved down to the third pairing with Chris Tanev? Or that Chris Tanev wasn’t promoted due to solid play? This is such a downer way of looking at things. Particularly when I haven’t had any significant issues with Garrison’s play.

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  4. Zach Morris
    February 21, 2013

    Hmm. Do other teams have the same right-side, left-side problem?
    I believe Daniel pointed out an article that said a vast majority of NHLers shoot left…

    I miss Salo.

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    • Zach Morris
      February 21, 2013

      How important is sided-ness for a defenceman?
      According to Elliotte Friedman, a reason the Flyers pursued Weber so aggressively was that he was right-handed (right-sticked?), and Philadelphia felt they were being taken advantage of on the right side.
      Holmgren later picked up FOster, Gervais and Schenn, all right-handers.

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    • Hanson Bros
      February 21, 2013

      Salo was too often injured thus not worth the large contract and potential for IR. Better off without him. Curious, how many games has he missed with Tampa?

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      • dunegig
        February 21, 2013

        None. Plus I hear that he’s been a great boost to their powerplay and mentor to their younger D-men.

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    • chinook
      February 21, 2013

      Most right-handed people shoot left (dominant hand at top of the stick).

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      • Matt
        February 21, 2013

        As a right-handed person who shoots right, I find that so weird.

        I know it’s true that most right-handers shoot left, but I just can’t get my head around holding my stick the other way around.

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        • chinook
          February 21, 2013

          Yeah, weird eh? There is a fair percentage of switch-hitters in baseball, but I’ve never heard of anyone that can switch hands on a hockey stick. Would be a damn cool move.

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      February 21, 2013

      Indeed, and on that note, WHERE IN THE HELL IS MY SALO IS YOUR PAL-O SHIRT???? Seriously guys I’ve been waiting a really long time.

      I am wondering if Gillis is a little guilty of coveting shiny new toys at the expense of the underappreciated existing ones, sort of like a teenager with an iPhone 4 gazing jealousy at his classmate with the 4S. Witness Willie Mitchell being allowed to walk right into a prominent role with a Cup champion to make room for Keith Ballard, or the obviously underrated Salo logging 22 minutes a game and a team best +11 (on a team with very questionable goaltending no less) to make room for Jason Garrison. I’ll leave his personnel moves up front out of it for now, and will concede that both Willie and Sami have had injury concerns to make the buyer beware, but I’m going to up front say I would trade Garrison and Ballard (and their bloated contracts) for Willie and Salo back in a heartbeat. Ballard’s been solid this season, and the jury’s still out on Jason, but anyone who watched Willie completely stymy our team in the first round last year has to agree with me just a little bit.

      On another note, I wonder when we’ll see Alberts or Barker. Not too sure why Gillis wanted Cam, but Andrew has always been a underappreciated but very steady number 6 guy for the team and it’d be nice to see him draw in for a game.

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      • Daniel Wagner
        February 21, 2013

        Mitchell hasn’t played a single game this year and was a massive gamble for the Kings. It definitely paid off for them, but I wouldn’t have wanted the Canucks to offer him a two-year contract at the time. It wasn’t that they got rid of him to make room for Ballard. They offered him a one-year contract and he didn’t take it. I do wish they could have kept him, though.

        I really like Salo. I would have liked the Canucks to keep him around. But again, the Lightning offered a 2-year contract for significant money. He’s 38 years old and with his injury history, it was too much for the Canucks to keep him around.

        And you probably don’t want to hear it, but Salo’s riding some unsustainable percentages right now. His on-ice shooting percentage is 15.6, around twice his career average, which is incredibly unlikely to continue over the course of the entire season.

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  5. akidd
    February 21, 2013

    gotta love tanev. the kid with nerves of steel(or no nerves) just keeps doing his thing and now he’s getting a shot at the top four. he’s looked like an nhl dman from the get go, played right through that run in ’11 with an even plus/minus and just continues to make good decision and proper execution after good decision and proper execution. sure he might not be an offensive powerhouse but you couldn’t ask for much more on the defensive end.

    and ya, bieksa, and edler, have the offensive instincts, particularly, edler who seems to demonstrate twice the skill in the o-zone as he does in the d-zone, but continue to be inconsistent in their own ends.

    the tanev/edler pairing was only a matter of time. it’ll be fun to see how that goes. who knows, it may get cemented pretty quick.

    garrison loos like a smart dman. i don’t really see it as a doghouse demotion because if bieksa wasn’t a natural right-sider he’d surely be down there instead. what’s left is to see how ballard adjusts to the new side and partner.

    lots of great pieces in that d-corps. i’m sure AV will figure out some pairings that will make it all work.

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  6. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    February 21, 2013

    Was the inflexibility really Ballard’s, or more the coaching staff’s displeasure at what they were seeing? I can’t imagine Ballard would willingly sit out the Stanley Cup Final rather than play on his off side.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      February 21, 2013

      I believe that he responded negatively to the option earlier in the season and wasn’t given the option later on. I can’t confirm that, unfortunately.

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  7. not Cam Charron
    February 21, 2013

    chris tanev should not be in the top four

    jason garrison has been fine

    kevin bieksa is the only defenceman who has struggled this season

    shifting bieksa around won’t really help that

    my shift and sentence dot buttons are broken

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    • Doop
      February 21, 2013

      Sentence dot.

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  8. best behaviour
    February 21, 2013

    On another note – anyone else super confused by the “we recommend” and “around the web” links at right in PITB’s website? There’s one about Tim Thomas that is dated 4th June 2012. Please, please stop recommending that.

    (JK – I know you guys don’t control those. But in case you are lobbying the Sun for a web platform that doesn’t behave like it’s designed in the 90s. I mean, on what other page in the modern world does the whole thing reload every time you post a comment?)

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  9. Amor de Cosmos
    February 21, 2013

    I do sometimes wonder whether trying to keep both Bieksa and Edler in the same defensive six is really viable. Both are skillful and can be important game-breakers but they’re both also capable of serious defensive blunders. Surely a defender’s first responsibility is to — well — defend. But right now four of our top six seem to be on the team based on their scoring ability, that seems like overkill to me. Last year it was slightly less of an issue because Ballard was out of favour much of the time, and his place taken by the less adventurous Alberts or Rome. Frankly I liked that setup better, it made me less nervous.

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  10. Phileo99
    February 22, 2013

    I am wondering whether whoever did the scouting report on Garrison for the canucks actually reported an observation about how Garrison can’t play on the left side …..
    IF such a scouting report was made about Garrison, then Garrison cannot be faulted for the demotion.

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