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Former Panthers defenceman Garrison signs six-year contract with Canucks

Florida Panthers' Jason Garrison (52) passes the puck by New Jersey Devils' Patrik Elias (26), during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Jan. 6, 2012, in Newark, N.J. The Vancouver Canucks signed defenceman Jason Garrison to a six-year contract on the first day of NHL free agency Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP - Bill Kostroun

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Florida Panthers' Jason Garrison (52) passes the puck by New Jersey Devils' Patrik Elias (26), during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Jan. 6, 2012, in Newark, N.J. The Vancouver Canucks signed defenceman Jason Garrison to a six-year contract on the first day of NHL free agency Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP - Bill Kostroun

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks wooed defenceman Jason Garrison home Sunday with a new six-year contract.

The Canucks signed Garrison, who grew up in the oceanside Vancouver-area community of White Rock, B.C., on the first day of NHL free agency.

He joins the Canucks after four seasons with the Panthers organization, where he emerged as a 23-minutes-per-game defenceman.

"We felt quite strongly that he is a player that is evolving and, given our circustances, that he would have an opportunity to continue to evolve," said Canucks general manager Mike Gillis on a conference call.

The Canucks did not disclose financial terms, but reports suggest his contract will pay him an average of US$4.6 million a season. Gillis indicated Garrison agreed to take less from the Canucks than he could have earned with other clubs.

The GM said the $4.6 million annual was the maximum that the Canucks were willing to pay Garrison.

"We're trying to have a team that competes for the Stanley Cup, and in a cap system, it means that everyone has to work with you in order to allow that to happen," said Gillis. "(Garrison) was adamant that he wanted to play for a team that was going to compete for a Stanley Cup and had an opportunity to, and was prepared to work with us to do it."

The 27-year-old Garrison recorded 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points in 77 games with Florida last season. He also compiled a modest 32 penalty minutes and his goals total established a new Panthers record for defencemen.

The six-foot-two, 220-pound University of Minnesota-Duluth alum added a goal and two assists in the playoffs.

The Canucks are looking to him to help shore up an inconsistent power play with his strong left-handed shot. Garrison impressed Gillis after excelling alongside veteran offensive defenceman Bryan Campbell on the Panthers.

"We think we have pairings that can work, and we certainly have a spot on the power play for a shot like that," said Gillis. "I'm pretty confident that he has still further upside."

Garrison was viewed as a prime candidate to join the Canucks before free agency opened due to his Vancouver ties. He appeared to become expendable in Florida after the Panthers signed defenceman Filip Kuba away from the Ottawa Senators.

"It's hard to find big, strong defencemen in their prime that you can sign, and we consider him one of them," said Gillis.

Vancouver signed him after losing out in the chase for unrestricted free agent collegiate defenceman Justin Schultz after the 21-year-old Kelowna, B.C., native decided over the weekend to sign with the Edmonton Oilers.

Meanwhile, the Canucks lost two defencemen to free agency Sunday. Sami Salo joined the Tampa Bay Lightning after a decade in Vancouver, while Aaron Rome signed with the Dallas Stars.

The Canucks had hoped to have Salo back, but he opted instead to sign with the Lightning for $7.5 million over two years. He received a raise over the $2 million deal he earned on a one-year deal with Vancouver in 2011-12.

Rome, who did not figure in the Canucks' future, signed a three-year, $4.5-million contract, the Stars announced.

Gillis said the Canucks could only afford to offer a one-year contract to Salo, a fan favourite who has overcome numerous freak injuries.

"Sami was an excellent hockey player, but he is a better person, and we're going to miss him a lot," said Gillis.

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