Friday, March 08, 2013

Jason Garrison and the Adrian Aucoin effect

I don't really do #TGATT all that often – neither following nor contributing.  But lo and behold, after following Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets online, it is possible to parlay seemingly innocuous twitter banter into a full-fledged article.  (Cheers, @kerbjack27.)  Who knew?

Ah, Adrian Aucoin.  As far as slapshots go, consider him the Canucks' antecedent to Sami Salo.  Aucoin, of course, set that record with a 23-goal anomaly in 1998–99, breaking Doug Halward's 16-year-old mark by four.  And yes, the all-time high still belongs to him.  Between Ed Jovanovski, Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler and the dearly-departed Salo, no Canucks defenceman has come within even five of Aucoin's mark since.¹  In fact, of the 23 markers, his 18 powerplay goals was a league-wide record until Sheldon Souray snapped it by one in 2006–07.²  It also remains the Canucks record by four.³  To put that into context, the closest total since was Salo's 9 man-advantage markers in 2005–06.

Five teams and thirteen years after his banner year with Vancouver, Aucoin signed with Columbus to a $2 million deal for the current campaign.  Facing all two of his former Canucks teammates last night (Aucoin played half a season with a pair of rookie Sedins before being swapped for Dan Cloutier in 2001), he registered two shots on goal while clocking in nineteen minutes of ice time.  In 18 games with what is now his seventh NHL team, Aucoin has contributed two assists while playing in the Jackets' bottom-two.  At 39 years old, he's a far cry from his more youthful, record-setting self, but if you've followed his career at all, you know the journeyman never approached 23 at any point post-1999.

Aucoin's emergence in 1998-99 came in his sixth professional season.  (Canucks are late bloomers.  Just ask Naslund, the Sedins or Kesler.)  His highest previous output was five goals two years prior, while his highest subsequent total was 13 in 2003–04.  The record seems as odd now as it did then.  So does that make him a one-trick pony? 

If the expectation was for him to be a perennial 20-goal scorer, Al MacInnis style, then yes.  But naturally, no one had their hopes quite so high, I hope.  As per more realistic expectations, Aucoin became a steady top-four defenceman in this league who you could count on for regular offense.  Interspersed within six 30-point campaigns were two years as – eek – Blackhawks captain (2005–07), an All-Star appearance and a career-high 44 points (both in 2003–04).  It was never as flashy as 23 goals, but post-Canucks Aucoin did pretty well for himself in the NHL.

Now frame yourself in 2011–12 and another unheralded and late-blooming defenceman is setting a team record for goals over in Florida – complete with 100 mph slapshot and "where did this guy come from" allure. 

In case you need the comparison made explicit, Jason Garrison's 2011–12 story is uncannily similar to the former Canuck's.  While Aucoin was an obscure mid-round pick (117th overall in 1992), Garrison went inconspicuously undrafted.  Playing in his fifth professional campaign at the age of 27 (Aucoin was 26 in 1998-99), he turned a powerplay pairing with Brian Campbell and the element of surprise into a record-setting 16 goals.  The output more than than tripled his previous career-high, let alone septupled (yes, that's a word) his salary.

Twenty-two games into his $27.6 million deal, however, the goals are not coming near as fast enough.  And Garrison's overall struggles in the first month of the campaign need not be recounted.  I will be the first to admit that the White Rock native has yet to "wow" me.  But perhaps like Aucoin's career demonstrated, his value isn't going to be determined by his ability to replicate one prodigious goal total.

A responsible top-four defenceman capable of scoring 10 a season would, indeed, be very good.  Perhaps a tad overpriced at a $4.6 million cap hit, but very good, nonetheless.  Over a full season, Garrison's current pace translates into exactly 10.6 goals (maybe one didn't quite cross the line).  Paired with a current +9 plus-minus to lead the back end, it's downright Aucoin.  And call me crazy, but that's downright acceptable.


P.S. I'm going to pretend I didn't read Aucoin crediting both Mark Messier and Mike Keenan *shudder* for his record-setting season in the Sun.  At least someone benefitted from that debacle.

Also, be sure to check out Garrison's top five career goals, as determined by BTD back in October 2011.

¹ Jovanovski recorded 17 goals in 2001–02 to come within six.  Meanwhile, Ehrhoff (2010–11, 2009–10), Salo (2006–07) and Ohlund (2003–04) have all recorded 14-goal campaigns.
² Aucoin had tied Hall of Famer Denis Potvin's 18 powerplay goal mark set in 1975–76.  He is now tied for the second-highest total with Potvin and Mike Green, who also recorded 18 in 2008–09.
³ Rick Lanz scored 14 powerplay goals for the Canucks in 1983–84.

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