VANCOUVER – After experiencing three coaches, two general managers and countless trade rumours during his two seasons of turmoil in the Vancouver Canucks’ maelstrom, Conor Garland is accustomed to hearing things.
The 27-year-old winger from Boston, who embraced the idea of a frantic Canadian market when former general manager Jim Benning acquired him from the Arizona Coyotes two summers ago, has exited social media as a survival instinct.
He noted last season that the start of trade rumours attached to him coincided with the start of the five-year, $24.75-million-US contract he signed right after he was traded.
Garland has heard a lot of things during his two seasons. But when he arrived back in Vancouver earlier this month to join teammates skating ahead of training camp, Garland heard something new. It was strange, foreign, almost eerie. It was. . . quiet.
“Yeah, for sure it feels different,” Garland said Monday in his first interview since returning to the West Coast. “Guys got out here early for a reason; everybody’s excited and we’re working hard on our skates. It just has a different feel.
“Last year was a little bit of a distracted feeling. There was a lot going on. Our captain situation, the coaching situation, we had a lot going on. So it’s nice that it’s quiet. And now it’s up to us.”
There’s nothing going on now except preparation.
The belated alignment within the organization between management and the coaching staff – in January, GM Patrik Allvin finally hired his own coach in Rick Tocchet – the trade of captain Bo Horvat and buyout of defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has removed much of the noise in the market.
Were it not for Elias Pettersson’s ongoing contract discussions, you could have heard crickets chirp Monday at the Canucks annual Jake Milford Invitational charity golf tournament at Northview Golf Club in Surrey.
“You’re at your best when you’re just focused and thinking about your role and how you can help the team,” Garland told Sportsnet. “And I think when everything falls in line (organizationally), it all falls in line everywhere, right? It is a nice feeling.
“Obviously, everybody’s excited we’ve got Toc. I’ve played for him forever (three years in Arizona), so I know what he brings. And now a lot of guys do after the last 30 games (last season), and we’re just all excited to play that way for a full 82 games and see where it gets us. Starting off on the right foot will be huge; we have to have a great camp Victoria, which I know we’re all planning to do.”
Tocchet’s first training camp in charge, Garland’s third with the Canucks, opens Thursday on Vancouver Island.
“Hard camp for sure,” Garland said when asked about a Tocchet training camp. “But just a good camp — a camp with a lot of knowledge, a camp with a lot of information given out. There should be no grey areas. I think that’s probably the best thing is when you’re in Rick’s system, you know where you’re supposed to be.
“What we struggled with maybe in years past is, like, we get scored on and it could be your fault, could be his fault, we don’t really know. And it’s hard to correct things that way. I can go in the video room now and say: ‘that’s on me, that’s my fault.’ Our system is so clear. But camp will be hard, it will be up-pace and for sure the system will be implemented pretty well.”
Garland didn’t intend his statement as a torpedo towards former coach Bruce Boudreau, but it was clear over the final two months of last season that Tocchet had brought with him a lot more defensive detail and overall accountability.
Tocchet’s systems and demands are familiar to Garland from their time together with the Coyotes.
But this doesn’t mean there won’t still be trade rumours involving the player who has been a 50-point scorer in Vancouver and whose cap hit of $4.95-million is fifth-highest among Canuck forwards. Pending injuries, management may yet have to make a significant move to get under the $83.5-million cap limit for opening night on Oct. 11.
“Missing the playoffs is the issue, right?” Garland said of the “noise” surrounding the last two seasons. “When you don’t win, a lot of stuff comes out. I’m sure teams deal with stuff, but they win and you never hear about it. I mean, look at the New England Patriots: (Tom) Brady and (Bill) Belichick couldn’t stand each other their last couple of years. But they win two Super Bowls and you don’t hear about it until six years later. Winning hides a lot. When you lose, more stuff comes out. More stuff that might not even be true comes out, so it sounds worse.
“I know this market is crazy. I mean, I’ve just done the most I can. I’ve gotten off social media. Once a couple rumours were out and then nothing came, I said ‘enough is enough.’ You can only be distracted for so long until it just eats at you. I understand when you don’t perform, that’s what happens. If I perform, I’m sure the rumours will go away. So it’s up to me to play better and help this team because we have a team that can make the playoffs this year.
“I feel like this is our best chance to win since I’ve been here. I think we’re a really deep team. I think we’ve got one of the best goalies in the league (Thatcher Demko), two great centres (Pettersson and J.T. Miller) and one of the best defencemen, if not players, in Hughsie. We’ve got a lot of stuff and I’m looking forward to upping my game a lot this year, and I feel confident in myself that I can help this team get in the playoffs.”