Let’s face it, forward Conor Garland is on a path to be one of the stars of the Arizona Coyotes. Since being called up to the NHL in December of 2018, Garland’s play has progressed at an excellent pace. His points per game average has gone from 0.38 in his first season to 0.57 in his next year to a current 0.74 for the 2020-21 season. He is a very versatile player who now has 45 goals and 47 assists in 162 games. He has 10 power-play goals and 15 assists to his credit. Because of his increased playing level, his ice time has increased from 14:09 to 17:50 currently.
Garland makes things happen. He gets under the opposing players’ skin. Garland chirps and annoys the guy trying to cover him, and pays the price. He even irritated the Colorado Avalanche‘s star forward Nathan MacKinnon so much he threw Garland’s helmet at him during a scrum in a recent game. MacKinnon received a double minor and game misconduct in 9-3 thrashing by the Avs.
Conor Garland is the Heart and Soul of the Arizona Coyotes
Whenever the Coyotes need a lift, or a timely scoring play Conor Garland seems to be in the mix. He’s around the puck and therefore is always involved in the action on the ice. And this is not a big guy. He stands 5′-10″, 165 pounds. Because he has had some success of late, he has caught the attention of opposing teams. Their big enforcers or physical guys seem to have a target on Garland’s back. The problem with the Coyotes is, no teammate has really done much to protect Garland. He seems to attract very marginal hits and doesn’t always get a call against the other team.
What Garland does best is forecheck. He scoots around the opposing team’s defensive zone looking to cause havoc and create a turnover. Garland over his career has collected 86 takeaways as opposed to just 54 giveaways. He has this knack of spinning around quickly to avoid a check and get open. His speed and puck handling skills have really helped the Coyotes weak offence. He has outstanding puck possession numbers with a career of 52.1 Corsi and a 4.9 Relative Corsi. He has increased his playmaking skills this season, which was one of his goals. With 25 assists this season, he is becoming a more well-rounded player.
Garland Will be a Restricted Free Agent Soon
Both Garland’s camp and new general manager Bill Armstrong have agreed to wait until the conclusion of the season to discuss Garland’s new contract. Of course, there was also lots of speculation that he was going to be traded before the deadline, but nothing transpired. Since Garland is a native of Scituate, Massachusetts, it was rumoured that the Boston Bruins may have some interest in acquiring him. Instead, the Bruins landed free agent Taylor Hall. Whether the Coyotes and Garland can come to a contract agreement is yet to be determined.
Garland may demand a much richer contract than his considerably reasonable $775,000 deal he presently has. His success will earn him a larger deal and perhaps in the range of $5-6 million for at least three years. It seems the team will have in excess of $31 million in cap space next season, so we’ll see if his bank account increases abundantly. He deserves it. He has shown progress every season, and when he was hurt recently, it seems the team really missed the energy and spark he creates when he steps onto the ice.
Arizona Coyotes Need Garland Going Forward
Even though the Coyotes failed to reach the playoffs this season, they hope to get Garland signed and keep him around for the future. His inspired play would be missed if he is traded. Obviously, Armstrong wants to keep Garland in the desert, now it’s soon time to bring his contract up near the level of other comparable forwards like Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, and Christian Dvorak. Perhaps Armstrong will go with more of a bridge contract and not commit to long-term deals as former GM John Chayka did with the three aforementioned forwards.
When Garland’s type of play is augmented by another spunky forward named Michael Bunting, it makes the Coyotes a tougher team to play. Bunting has nine goals and three assists in 19 games. His style of play is very similar to Garland in that he likes to be in the crease and screening the opposing goalie. He also won’t take anything from players like Ryan Reaves of the Vegas Golden Knights. These two forwards need to be in the Coyotes’ lineup for some time. Bunting’s contract is expiring too, so Armstrong needs to get him in the fold as well.
Both of these players worked their way up from the AHL ranks and have performed at the NHL level. Now, they need to be compensated for their efforts.
Conor Garland is one heck of a player and the Coyotes are fortunate to have him.