March 3, 2012; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Jason Garrison (52) controls the puck during the first period against the Nashville Predators at the BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

2012 NHL Free Agency: Jason Garrison

Jason Garrison‘s value as an NHL defenseman will come down to one thing: Was 2011-2012 a breakout season or was it a fluke? With Sheldon Souray possibly walking away this summer, the Dallas Stars will be sorely lacking size on the blue line. You can bet if they like Jason Garrison, they will be hoping his 16 goal, 33 point season was a sign of things to come for the soon to be 28 year old defenseman.

Garrison may not be number one on Dallas’ list of desired defenseman, that spot is likely held by Ryan Suter just like 29 other NHL teams, but he could be a Plan B if Suter isn’t a feasible target. Garrison was undrafted, but was signed to a free agent contract with Florida in 2008, a situation similar to the Stars own Brenden Dillon, who also went undrafted. He broke out as a full time NHLer in the 2010-2011 season, scoring 18 points and averaging over 22 minutes a game. His responsibilities only increased this past season and he made a major impact on the surprising and Southeast Division champion Florida Panthers.

He was lethal on the Florida power play, scoring 9 of his 16 goals with the man advantage and his use a special teams player extended to penalty killing, where he averaged 2:34 on the PK per game. His average ice time increased to over 23 minutes a game and became a fixture on the Florida blueline alongside Brian Campbell. His ability to play tough minutes and play a multi-faceted game will make him attractive to many teams come July 1st.

His contract with the Panthers was worth just $1.35 million over two years, and he will be undoubtedly commanding a massive raise (likely around $5 million a year) as one of the very few UFA defenseman with top pairing potential (the others being Suter and Matt Carle). Garrison has the ability to replace both the size and the minutes Sheldon Souray brought to the team, not to mention the obvious offensive upside that all but disappeared from Souray’s game in the final months of the season. He’s young and has the ability to grow with a team stacked with youth. Even if he is seeking a contract with an AAV of $5 million, the Stars could easily afford it. Is he worth that much money? Probably not, but with a sparse market and Jay Feaster of the Calgary Flames handing out massive contracts to guys like Dennis Wideman, the price has gone up and that’ll be what they have to pay for his services.

Garrison has played just two seasons as a full time NHL player and had an extremely good season last year. Gambling $5 million on a player who’s had one good season thus far is without a doubt a risk, but the Stars need someone besides Adam Pardy to bring size to the blue line. Brenden Dillon making a huge impact would be the best case scenario, but Joe Nieuwendyk isn’t about to depend on an unproven rookie to be the big man on defense. They have numerous holes to fill and they have no choice but to make moves, Jason Garrison just so happens to be one of the top options out there.

How do you feel about Jason Garrison? Let us know.


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