When Steve Yzerman lured George McPhee into taking Jason Garrison in the Expansion Draft, Lightning fans thought that they had seen the last of the #5 sweater. That was not to be the case, and Yzerman signed Dan Girardi on Day 1 of Free Agency Frenzy to a two-year, $6 million pact.
Often called one of the worst signings of the offseason, NHL fans including myself were not deterred from complaining about Yzerman’s decision making. But when I came to the realization that this was reality and not wacky GM’ing in an NHL video game, I started to create my own expectations for Girardi’s role in this club over the next two years.
Of course, these expectations are very low. Yzerman did not pay the 33-year-old to butter popcorn but rather to take the ice on a nightly basis and provide the locker room with yet another veteran leader. With that in mind, I hoped that Girardi would be deployed on the bottom pair while adding quality PK minutes due to his shot-blocking prowess.
However, as we saw in the first two games, Girardi was given top-pair minutes alongside Victor Hedman—Norris candidate and sure-fire top-three defenseman in this league. Luckily, this decision was rectified in games three, four, and five to start the year.
The best-case scenario over these next two years is for Girardi to play on the third pairing. However, his presence is causing someone else to be pushed out of the lineup, like Andrej Sustr, or Tampa Bay utilizes the 11/7 lineup with Sergachev and Koekkoek thrown into the fold. Girardi will almost certainly be a part of the roster next season, unless a buy out or mutual contract termination were to occur.
I chronicled Girardi’s play over the first five games of the season with a careful eye.
Game 1: 10/6, Home vs. Florida Panthers, 5-3 Win
-1, 0 PIM, 4 hits, 6 blocks, 0 giveaways, 1 takeaway, 0 SOG, 20:16 TOI (3:45 SH)
Girardi came out and had a pretty good first period, in my opinion. Although expectations were low to begin with, I really thought he had a solid opening few shifts as a member of the Lightning.
The second period, however, was more vintage Girardi. On Florida’s first goal, he decided to mimic Hedman by also sliding along the ice in an attempt to block a passing lane. In doing so, he actually didn’t even block the passing lane—instead allowing Florida forward Connor Brickley an easy pass reception and eventual shot into the empty net. As for the third period, I quantified his play as not too bad—nothing egregiously bad and nothing stellar.
Girardi seemed to get involved offensively much more than I would have expected. That is not his strong suit, and it’s a pattern that he began showing in the remaining few games as I paid critical attention to it in his game. However, the majority of his offensive forays did not bite him in the ass, and he was able to recover in time to his defensive position.
I was not a fan of him being paired with Hedman, but I imagine that this was due mostly to Dotchin being a healthy scratch.
Game 2: 10/7, Away @ Florida Panthers, 5-4 Loss
+2, 0 PIM, 3 hits, 2 blocks, 1 giveaway, 0 takeaways, 1 SOG, 17:07 TOI (3:43 SH)
In his first game away from Amalie as a member of the Lightning, Girardi was not bad. In all three periods there were no bad plays that made him stick out like a sore thumb. He played the majority of this game on the bottom pairing with Coburn—a pairing which, given the roster and the coaching staff’s seeming unwillingness to play Slater Koekkoek, keeps me satisfied.
Game 3: 10/9, Home vs. Washington Capitals, 4-3 Win (OT)
-1, 4 PIM, 0 hits, 0 blocks, 1 giveaway, 0 takeaways, 0 SOG, 15:19 TOI (0:54 SH)
As was the case in his second game for Tampa Bay, Girardi was not very noticeable in this matchup with the Capitals. That is a good thing for Lightning fans and the team’s success as a whole. In the first period, he played the 4-on-1 correctly, although he was unable to block the cross-ice pass to Taylor Chorney that was stopped by a sprawling Andrei Vasilevskiy. However, he was paired mostly with Hedman again in this period.
In the second frame, I appreciated that he stood up for Mikhail Sergachev, who was nailed with an arguably dirty hit by former Lightning 2010 1st rounder, Brett Connolly. It wasn’t a great fight, but I valued Girardi’s quick reaction in rectifying the situation to the best of his abilities.
Game 4: 10/12, Home vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-4 Win
-2, 2 PIM, 0 hits, 0 blocks, 0 giveaways, 0 takeaways, 2 SOG, 16:22 TOI (3:33 SH)
Girardi played a good game against Pittsburgh. His penalty in the first period occurred as a result of him trying to create a chance down low in the offensive zone. In my opinion, it was a pretty weak call, too. In the second period, with Sergachev stapled to the bench, Girardi’s presence was not noticeable.
In the third frame, he was honestly really good. I enjoyed the fact that he was not getting beaten by any attempted breakouts when he pinched in the offensive zone. However, his shot is still on the weak side, and he tends to defer to dumping it around the side walls or shooting off the back wall. He played primarily with Braydon Coburn during the entirety of the game. All in all, a very solid outing by the former Ranger stalwart.
Game 5: 10/14, Home vs. St. Louis Blues, 2-1 Win
+0, 0 PIM, 1 hits, 0 blocks, 0 giveaways, 1 takeaway, 5 SOG, 17:18 TOI (2:08 SH)
I’m just gonna say it. This was Girardi’s best game to date as a member of the Lightning. Let’s just hope he can continue it. In the second period, he was pinching in the offensive zone at very opportune times. He managed to take 5 of Tampa Bay’s 27 shots—5! In the third period, he picked great spots to jump into the rush. I was impressed by this play.
Totals: -2, hits, 8 blocks, 2 giveaways, 2 takeaways, 8 SOG, Average 17:16 TOI—(SH: 2:49), Average of 25 shifts per game @ 42 seconds per shift
After analyzing his play over the first five games of the season, Lightning fans should be content with having Girardi in the lineup—if he plays on the bottom pairing and on the PK. At this stage of his career, that is an acceptable role for him given the circumstances and his recently signed two-year deal.
Who knows if Girardi remains on this team next season? There will be some prospects pushing for playing time (see: Ben Thomas). Girardi does, however, have a full no-trade clause, from what I gathered in my research, in his contract in both years—although this is something that has not been an issue for Yzerman to maneuver around in the past.
However, if Cooper can keep his minutes to 13-17 a night on the third pairing, I think fans will be pleasantly surprised with Girardi, given his play on the back end.