What most of us will remember about Dan Girardi's year is the contract extension he signed and how concerned we all were with the growing fear that he was, in fact, overrated and overvalued. This was a strange thing for a lot of us to come to terms with because it felt as if Dan Girardi had been underrated for most of his career. So, what do we make of this pivotal year in Girardi's career? What did we see out of the Rangers most noteworthy stay-at-home defenseman?
A Decent Year for McDonagh's Partner
Fancy stats aside, Dan Girardi had a pretty solid season, especially when you consider that he was the prototypical defenseman for John Tortorella's Rangers and had to find his way in Alain Vigneault's new system. However, as our own Blue Blooded pointed out back on July 1st, Girardi's fancy stats weren't very encouraging.
"On the defensive side it looks a lot worse though, Girardi is below average at preventing shots against both 5v5 and 4v5. The less said about his performance 5v4 the better, as the numbers are dreadful."
Blue Blooded really didn't pull any punches in that assessment of Girardi's fancy stats and reading those words certainly stings now that Girardi is under contract until the 2020 offseason at a cap hit of $5.5 million per season.
In 81 games, Dan Girardi put up 24 points, which is comfortably within what we expected out of him. In the 2013-14 season, Girardi, of course, led the Rangers in both hits and blocked shots. Unfortunately for Girardi (and for the Rangers) blocking shots and registering body checks are not the metrics that analysts use to measure excellence in defensemen. If they were, Anton Volchenkov would've gotten a lot more than a $1 million for 1 year deal from the Nashville Predators. It's easy to beat up on Girardi because his numbers are inflated by playing with Ryan McDonagh and it's easy to see that McDonagh makes up for a lot of Girardi's shortcomings, but Girardi still had a pretty good year on a team that was going through some serious changes. He was a great presence in the locker room and emerged as one of the team's key leaders this season, especially after the departure of captain Ryan Callahan. Girardi had to adjust his game to Vigneault's style and a lot of the cracks showed. He wasn't the only guy that floundered a bit in the first year of Vigneault's idea of what Rangers hockey will be.
Girardi Stays, Cally Goes
When Rangers fans first heard that Girardi and Callahan were on the market they were outraged. How could this be happening? It felt perverse. And then we all learned about how much money they were asking for and our opinions changed in quite a hurry. After a certain point, it became clear that the Rangers could realistically only hold onto one of the two players and would likely trade the other one on deadline day.
As hard as it was to believe, the Rangers organization was going to have to make a choice between Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi; two players that had defined the team's character and success for years. From the get go contract talks went better with Girardi and he was more willing to be flexible than Callahan was. When the smoke cleared Girardi had a new contract (he took six years instead of the seven he had asked for) and Ryan Callahan was a Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers were unable to come to terms with Callahan after they locked Girardi up for six years. The first New York-native captain was traded for Tampa Bay's disgruntled captain and Dan Girardi suddenly under contract to be a Ranger until the 2020 offseason. And just like that, the Rangers' character and fate changed with a phone call.
Girardi's six-year deal was a year longer than most of us wanted it to be but it was a relief to finally have it no longer be a distraction. In all likelihood, the contract means that Dan Girardi will be a New York Ranger for the rest of his career. As nice as it was to stop worrying about Girardi's future, most of us couldn't help but critique and analyze his play with more scrutiny now that we were "stuck" with him.
In the 2014 Playoffs Girardi looked slow and was often caught out of position. When he was directly compared to Anton Stralman (which he was, frequently) he looked outclassed by a player that most of us knew would likely be gone in the offseason because of Girardi's new deal. When the 2014 Free Agency period opened up, Girardi's contract looked just as ugly as it did in the playoffs.
It's easy to be disappointed and disgruntled with Girardi and his current contract but we shouldn't let that take away from what he gives the team. Although he may not be the most stalwart of defensemen or a possession monster, he gives everything he can give on every shift he is on the ice. How many times have we seen him come up with a huge block? How many times have we seen him make a great pinch to keep the play alive and the puck in the offensive zone? Girardi provides a lot of the intangibles that help turn good teams into great teams. It is unfortunate that the Rangers had to pay the kind of money that they did to keep Girardi in New York? Yes. But look at what Girardi meant to Tortorella's Rangers. Look at his role as a leader on this team and how that role will increase with Callahan's departure. He may be an undrafted free agent, but he's still a homegrown Ranger that will now likely finish his career as a Blueshirt. And that counts for something. Besides, if everything goes as poorly as we all fear it will, we'll have McDonagh covering up for him for the next few years, right?
What did you guys think of Dan Girardi's year?
Let's go Rangers.