We’ve arrived at our final defenseman, Dan Girardi. It was no guarantee that Girardi would even be a Ranger this year. He was a restricted free agent last summer and was coming off a rocky season. However, Tortorella and Sather showed confidence in Girardi not only brought him back but locked him up for four seasons. Let’s review how that decision looks in hindsight while reflecting on his 2010-2011 season:
What We Expected
For him to justify the contract he was given. While not in Redden territory, 4 years at 3.325 million per year is a significant contract to give out. Anything less than being one of the two best defensemen on the team would have been a disappointment. Girardi was the oldest and most experienced defensemen on the team that played the whole season. We needed him to act like it. Last season he had a lot of growing pains, which is fine, but he needed to prove that he learned from that and wouldn’t go through that once again. When Rozsival was traded this was magnified. His racked up 53 penalty minutes in each of his two prior seasons, and that’s not acceptable for a guy whom we wanted on the first pairing. Finally, we wanted to see an increase in offense. There are very few defensemen in the NHL who can get away with playing on the first defensive pairing while contributing little offensively; only the most elite defensive defensemen can do that.
How He Did
Well enough to get recognized for his play. During a season filled with injuries and inconsistency, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal were rock solid the whole year. Girardi broke the 30 point mark for the first time in his NHL career, he cut down the penalty minutes to 37 despite playing more minutes than he ever had in his career. But defensively, Girardi really defined himself. This season took a guy who was simply a solid middle pairing defenseman and evolved him into one of the truly great defensive defensemen in the NHL. He led the NHL in blocked shots with 236. Only four players have surpassed that number since the lockout. Girardi was also 9th in the NHL in hits and 49th in takeaways.
Let’s not glorify his season though. There were some small rocky patches, and a few individual games where he was a complete mess. That happens to even the best defensemen, though. Still, Girardi seemed prone to having bad turnovers. Girardi is not a great outlet passer, and sometimes he tried to force passes that he really shouldn’t have, which resulted in the other team regaining possession of the puck and exploiting the Rangers, who were spread all over the ice in anticipation of starting an offensive rush. With a team struggling to score goals, the Rangers could not afford to give the other team freebies. Unfortunately, some of Girardi’s turnovers resulted in that.
But for as good as Girardi’s season was, it was in the playoffs where he really put himself in the spotlight. Girardi blocked a ridiculous 26 shots in 5 playoffs games. His league leading 236 blocked shots averaged out at almost 2.9 blocked shots per game. In the playoffs, he averaged 5.2. On top of that, he also led all Rangers defensemen in hits. Despite being asked to play an absolutely ridiculous 27 minutes per game, Girardi did extremely well. He essentially became an overnight favorite of Pierre McGuire and during Breakup Day Tortorella proclaimed him the team’s best defenseman during the playoffs. His sacrificing of the body certainly took a toll. He looked a bit tired at the end of games, but that is to be expected with the minutes he was given, and he dislocated one of his fingers pretty badly while also banging up his ankle. You have to be impressed with his determination to play despite all of the injuries.
Final Grade: A-
The truth is that Dan Girardi is probably best served as a #3 defenseman. However, the Rangers needed him to be on the first pairing, and he did very well in that role. Marc Staal has been viewed as a defenseman that can allow an offensive defenseman to pinch more, but Girardi really filled that role for Marc Staal this year, allowing him to pinch deep and become more involved in the offense. The 3.325 million he is being given annually now looks like a very good deal for the Rangers, especially when you look at what kind of money was given to similar (though slightly better) defenseman like Anton Volchenkov and Zbynek Michalek. Again, Girardi is not an ideal first pairing defenseman, but the Rangers could have done a lot worse for this season. He definitely achieved all reasonable expectations and perhaps even did a bit more.
Girardi is locked up for the next 3 seasons. While he’s not untouchable, there’s no reason to believe he is being moved. All injuries he sustained during the playoffs will be healed by training camp, so there’s no concern there. It’s unlikely the Rangers will have an upgrade over Girardi at defense next season, so look for him to be paired with Marc Staal and getting 20-25 minutes per game once again.