July 1 is Canada Day on the Gregorian calendar and United States Day on the NHL calendar. Questions about the futures of the Predators' Ryan Suter and the Devils' Zach Parise at times seemed to overwhelm all news out of Nashville and New Jersey last season—the leading American defenseman and forward are expected to hit the open market when free agency starts on Sunday.
But the player likely to reap the richest rewards, at least in relative terms, is a defenseman whom many hockey fans couldn't pick out of the Panthers' lineup, let alone a police lineup. Jason Garrison, who made $700,000 firing lasers from the Florida point last season, should get an annual raise of 600%, maybe more, in a multiyear deal from a team looking to goose its power play. "Moves the puck well, decent defensively," says an Eastern Conference team executive. "But [his] bomb on the power play ... that changes the whole dynamic."
The 27-year-old Garrison, an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth, scored a breakout 16 goals in 2011--12, third among defensemen. Nine of his goals came on the power play. He also had a goal and two assists with the man-advantage in four playoff games.
Of course Garrison comes with the Fran√ßois Beauchemin--Mike Komisarek caveat. Both Beauchemin and Komisarek burnished their reputations because of their standout partners (Scott Niedermayer in Anaheim and Andrei Markov in Montreal, respectively) and wound up earning more than market value when they signed free-agent contracts with the Maple Leafs in 2009. Garrison, who has played just 190 regular-season games, often shared the Panthers' point last season with Brian Campbell, a superb passer.
But Garrison's impending payday is as much a function of his skills as it is of the dearth of quality free-agent blueliners. "I think Garrison's legit," the executive says. "He's a top four guy. Probably a Number 4, but he'll help somebody."
It's just going to cost extra.
ELIOT J. SCHECHTER/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (GARRISON)