The case for a Dan Girardi bounce back season
Whenever I think of Dan Girardi, the hockey fan in me sums him up with that one word.
However, in today’s day and age of information overload and the burgeoning world of hockey analytics, he’s a “cancer” on the ice to all his teammates because he’s “bad” at hockey. Yes, one pro-fancy stats and anti-Girardi person on twitter referred to him as a cancer.
Now that is not to say all those who love these new and still developing stats feel that way, but they are just as responsible for creating that perception by constantly dogging a defenseman with 1,691 hits and 1,525 blocked shots in his stellar career. A defenseman his teammates absolutely love and admire.
No, those stats aren’t valued in the analytics community because even though Dan Girardi is willing to block a point blank slapshot from Alex Ovechkin, it still represents a negative possession event. Instead, Dan Boyle and his porous defensive lapses were forgiven by the same people last season because his CF% numbers were better than Girardi’s.
There are also those that say by virtue of the good old eye test he’s still very “bad” at hockey. I ask you though, how many of those same people have been conditioned to feel that way with the constant shoving of fancy stats in their faces and the devaluing of hockey basics like hits and blocked shots?
You see, hockey is still organized chaos on ice. What may look like a Dan Girardi problem may have been caused two plays before that by another teammate, but all you see is Dan Girardi’s infamous snow angels. So many positives in his game have now been disregarded to the point where he may as well be taken out back and shot like a race horse with a broken leg.
Dan Girardi is on a decline, of that there is no doubt. Especially at the age of 32 with all that wear and tear on his body. The fact is that since 2010 Girardi has logged major minutes in the regular season and when you factor in the playoffs, you have to be amazed that he’s able to stand, let alone play hockey. Girardi has played through bruises, fractures and has battled serious injuries over the last three years, including a cracked knee cap and a concussion this past season.
This season was a disaster but could also be a blessing in disguise for #5 and the Rangers. He averaged the lowest TOI since 2010 and played over 3 minutes less per game than his average over that span. By getting knocked out in round 1, many Rangers will have their longest offseason since a 2nd round elimination in 2012/13, when they were ousted by Boston.
With sufficient time to heal, there is no reason to believe he can’t improve on last year’s difficult season. Still, it wasn’t as bad as many in the analytics community would like to have you believe. Yes, his possession numbers which is what many point to were bad, but as a defenseman your game is so much more than that.
One major criticism levied against Girardi by pro analytics folks and even those who say that he’s “bad” via the eye test, is that he’s terrible in his own zone and coughs up the puck. Well, according to data on Sportingcharts.com and filtering players with under 500 minutes played last season, there were 66 players worse than Girardi at +/- turnovers per 60.
What? Yes….66 players including P.K. Subban who topped the list at -2.78 and Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty was 7th at -2.27! Even every NYR fancy stats blogger’s corsi darling, Keith Yandle ranked worse than Girardi at 19 with a -1.8! All excused by virtue of shot generation (which a floater from the blue-line counts as a +1 event). For the record, Girardi AND McDonagh had a -1.32 turnover ratio.
Bottom line, when people highlight, scream, and yell ONE person’s issues over and over it stands out like a sore thumb. Yet many choose to ignore other facts that don’t help their narrative such as the numbers I just laid out. Sometimes, you need to look at a much bigger picture and you can start to understand maybe why the Rangers believe in giving Girardi one more chance.
“But his contract is awful!” is the next argument thrown at me on a daily basis.
Make no mistake about it, his contract is terrible. I also believe that even if he has a stellar season, the Rangers need to move him next summer. A bounce back year and the fact that Girardi’s restrictive No Move clause becomes a No Trade are the likely reasons why the organization opted to not buyout his contract this summer. That is smart business in my mind, because paying a penalty in dead cap space for 8 years (at one point it’s a bad a 3.75M) makes no financial sense. Moving an aging defenseman with a big cap hit is good business too.
The Rangers NEED Dan Girardi to bounce back. They also need to put him in a position to succeed as well. That requires the continued reducing of his minutes and get him to under 20 minutes per game. Take him off the top pairing and don’t fall into the trap of bumping him up if he’s playing well. This is going to be on Alain Vigneault and now, Jeff Beukeboom to figure out.
Dan Girardi is a warrior who has sacrificed himself to help the Rangers win. Now the organization must recognize he is not the same player that was once 2nd in the NHL in minutes played in the 2011/12 season. They need to understand his limitations and put him in the best situation possible to help himself and the team.
I believe it’s possible. The Warrior deserves as much.