This could probably be the shortest report card of our 2016 offseason if I wanted it to be. As always, though, this will most likely be one of the longest. Not because there's much of a debate about the level of Dan Girardi's play this year -- there isn't -- but more about a situation that violently spiraled out of control because the man who was making the decisions made a lot of the wrong ones.
2 goals, 15 assists 17 points in 74 games (1 assist in 2 playoff games)
Fancy stats (all 5v5, all from War-On-Ice):
Corsi: 41.99%, Shot Differential: -381, Zone Start Offensive Rel: -13.84%, Goals For %: 54.95, Scoring Chance For %: 41.77, Scoring Chance Differential: -190.
There's two sides to this analysis; the first being Girardi's play as it was and the second being what part of his play was his fault.
The first part is easy so let's get that out of the way. Girardi was the Rangers worst defenseman this year, and it wasn't all that close. After getting off to a horrific start (his corsi for % was in the 30's for a good part of the beginning of the year), a small late surge helped bring his fancy stats up to the still-really-bad levels they're at now. Plagued by injuries most of the year (something that's never happened to him before), Girardi's age and injuries seem to turn into a double team he wasn't able to overcome. Already not a fast or particularly good skater, Girardi's loss of a step or two culminated into a disaster season that -- had it not been for the consistent heroics of Henrik Lundqvist -- would have been even worse.
Which is sort of the problem, really. Lundqvist masked a lot of the team's early mistakes, and Girardi's goals for % (a sparking 54%) would make you think he actually wasn't all that bad. Until you see he was a -190 in scoring chance differential and realize that Lundqvist bailed him out time and time again.
In Vigneault's offensive system, defenseman are tasked with getting the puck in their own zone and then making quick, effective outlet passes to the streaking forwards. Part of the Rangers very high PDO is their uptempo offensive system built around fast breaks and odd-man rushes. Where this strategy broke down for the Rangers (with no adjustments from the coach, may I add) was when Girardi and Marc Staal (and over the course of the year it could be any defenseman not named Keith Yandle) couldn't do that. Forget the defensive breakdowns, crease-front snow angels, lost assignments and getting blown by on the wings; not being able to effectively move the puck out of the zone was a huge problem.
Girardi was sometimes demoted to the third pairing and easier competition -- where he'd do a little better -- but it was far and few between. And despite having an injury, Vigneault didn't seem to believe sitting or resting Girardi was a good thing for the team.
This is also where we start dipping into the gray area of this review.
It was apparent from the early goings that Girardi -- even fully healthy -- was not capable of handing the top-line, top-competition assignments that he's been used to seeing his entire career. Perhaps his enormous contract (another four years at a $5.5-million cap hit) was part of the reason why Vigneault refused to demote him to a lesser role, but the head coach ignored all the warning signs and then ignored the actual results to keep Girardi at the top of the defensive pairings.
The impact Girardi has on his partners has been well documented in this space. The media didn't seem too concerned about Girardi -- and defended him in most instances -- until later in the year when it became very apparent this was not a "slump" and Girardi was, in fact, not the defenseman they thought he was anymore. In the past I've refereed to Girardi as "the grenade Vigneault needs to think about where to throw" since whatever defensive partner Girardi was paired with saw a sharp decrease in their analytics. More often than not McDonagh fell on the grenade, giving the Rangers a top pairing that other teams wanted to match up with. That's never a good thing.
I could also use this opportunity to speak at length about how Girardi was played over Dylan McIlrath -- who rotted in the press box all year -- but that's not something Girardi could control. So outside of this passing reference, I'm leaving McIlrath out of this.
This is about Girardi's play on the ice and it wasn't good enough. That's a Girardi problem, no question. But that he was consistently thrown into the fire despite getting burned time and time again is on the coach. That it got as bad as it got was on the bench boss, too.
I do think Girardi deserves a lot of credit, though. Here's the list of things you can blame him for: His play on the ice. Here's the list of things you can't blame him for: His coach refusing to give him an easier workload, his contract extension, that the Rangers selected him over Anton Stralman, his current cap hit being a big part of why the Rangers might not be able to keep Keith Yandle and that he was played over a younger, better option that rotted on the bench. All of those gripes belong at the feet of Vigneault and Glen Sather.
That Girardi, as hurt as he's ever been in his career, gave his all night in and night out, was still blocking shots and putting his body on the line is a testament to Girardi the person and the player. If I could build the perfect hockey player I would take the heart, compete level and toughness from Dan Girardi. No question.
But the skill parts of the game? The parts that, ultimately, make the biggest differences between an effective and ineffective hockey player? That's a totally different story. And sadly that's what he's being graded on.
Final Grade: F -- There's nothing to debate and there's no saving grace. Even removing his contract from the equation, Girardi was probably the worst top-pairing defenseman in the league by a mile. Wear and tear along with age have not been kind to Girardi, and now that contract -- if it can't be removed -- will not be kind to the Rangers.