Even as a relatively dedicated hockey fan, you could be forgiven if you had very little idea of who Jason Garrison and Mike Weaver are.
The duo, who spent three-quarters of their ice-time together last season, played a thankless and pivotal role for an overmatched and largely anonymous Florida Panthers defense corps, and while the team may have struggled their efforts helped to limit the bleeding.
As I alluded to above, neither of these two players is particularly famous. Garrison was never drafted; the Panthers acquired him as a free agent after he posted strong offensive totals in his third season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth; he played his first game in the NHL in 2008-09 after spending most of the season as a key player for the Rochester Americans. this year, at the age of 26, he played his first season that was spent entirely in the NHL.
Like Garrison, Mike Weaver was never drafted, although he’s probably a little more famous because he’s been around longer. Florida is his fifth NHL organization; he broke in with the miserable Thrashers and has served as a depth defenseman all over the NHL. At 5’9”, he’s probably the smallest defensive defenseman playing in the world’s best league.
Yet, despite their humble origins, this pairing really did a superb job last season. They finished first and second in minutes played on the Florida blue-line, combined playing a little over 2,700 minutes at even-strength. Despite playing heavy minutes on an awful team, they finished a combined minus-1.
There’s more to those heavy minutes than simple ice-time. Of the Panthers’ six regular defenders, four broke just about even in terms of starting in the offensive versus the defensive zone – the exceptions were Weaver and Garrison, who started in their own end 60.0% of the time. Not only did they take on a ton of defensive minutes, but they did it against the best players – Garrison and Weaver finished first in both Quality of Competition and Relative Corsi Quality of Competition.
Despite that, no pairing in Florida was less likely to be scored on than Weaver and Garrison – they averaged around 2.00 goals against per 60 minutes of even-strength ice-time. They were outshot by a slight margin, but given the minutes they were playing that’s an accomplishment, not a criticism.
The best thing about the pairing? They did it all for a combined cost of less than $1.6 million. It’s hard to imagine there was a better example of budget spending in the NHL last season.