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NHL's top 5 offseason signings (so far)

Updated: February 27, 2013, 11:45 AM ET
By Craig Custance

In his first 19 games last season with the Florida Panthers, defenseman Jason Garrison was one of the early surprises in the NHL, scoring seven goals in that span. Most defensemen are approaching the 20-game mark this season, and there isn't one that has equaled Garrison's output from 2011-12.

It was the result of a talented player with a big shot combined with the confidence of a new coach in Kevin Dineen. He was absolutely sold on Garrison as an NHL impact player after watching tape of him early on in his tenure.

The Vancouver Canucks were just as sold this summer when they signed Garrison to a six-year, $27.6 million deal, with Garrison taking less to play closer to home and with a contender. It was a great fit.

It still is a good fit, although his slow start is being scrutinized more than at any point during his time in Florida. It's another adjustment he's had to deal with on a long list of them during a transition season.

"That's just part of it," Garrison said when we chatted Sunday morning. "It's different. It's a bigger market, so there's a lot of expectations. I think anybody as a professional athlete -- it's why you're a professional about it. You deal with it."

Tuesday night, Garrison scored his third goal of the year, less than half as many as he had through the same number of games last season. Perhaps most importantly, he had five shots on goal, his highest total of the year. The game followed an ugly loss to Detroit in which he had zero shots on a night Garrison and the Canucks probably want to erase from their memory.

There are signs he is getting more comfortable in Vancouver, and it's reasonable to allow him that period of adjustment. In talking about the slow start of franchise defenseman Shea Weber, Predators coach Barry Trotz said the lack of an exhibition season might have affected the big defenseman more than anyone realized. He said people, including his own players, underestimate the importance of using those preseason games to get timing down. It's even more magnified when you're a defenseman playing 20-25 minutes per game.

"It just takes a while to get the hands, the legs -- being able to function regularly with the smoothness that comes," Trotz said. "There's times early [Weber would] get a hard pass across and you'd think, 'Oh geez, it's right in his wheelhouse,' and he turns and it flips on him and he has to double clutch and stuff."

That's no longer happening. The timing is coming, and Weber's game has risen to the level we all expect. Weber is an all-world defenseman who has been playing on the same team his entire NHL career, and he still needed time to adapt.

Garrison is a good player, but he's dealing with the same issues on a new team in a new conference with new expectations. If those shots that were sailing high and wide are just now getting on net, that's OK.

"It's about starting from scratch a bit, but at the same time, you want to make sure your learning curve isn't long; if you make mistakes, you only make them once," Garrison said.

While we wait to evaluate the high-profile Garrison signing, here's a look at the five best summer free-agent signings (so far):

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