On Tuesday evening, reports started to surface that the Tampa Bay Lightning were interested in signing former New York Rangers defender Dan Girardi. The Rangers bought out Girardi’s contract during the buyout window earlier this summer. He spent the previous 11 seasons as a fixture on the Rangers blue line.
Before I continue, I want to preface this by saying that Dan Girardi seems like a good person. He’s been a leader in New York and a solid person in the locker room and the community. This piece has nothing to do with the person Dan Girardi. This piece is about the 33-year-old defender Dan Girardi who was objectively one of the worst regular players in the NHL last season.
Let’s take this piece by piece. Over the last three years, Girardi has played second-pairing minutes on average. During those minutes, he has scored at a middling rate for a third pairing defender and is not a power play contributor. Not good so far. Next, let’s look at his impact on shots and goals. When he is on the ice, his team gets outshot by a wide margin, and when he’s off the ice, they are a positive shot differential team. His impact on goals isn’t as severe but is still significantly negative.
In terms of usage, Girardi does see slightly more defensive zone starts and gets a little bit tougher quality of competition than teammates. But that is not nearly enough to justify the way his team gets so drastically outshot and outscored when he’s on the ice compared to when he is not.
Since we do see a gap in the difference between the shot and goal results for Girardi over a three year sample, a further look is probably deserved. And on a deeper dive using last season’s expected goals from Emmanuel Perry’s (@mannyelk) currently under reconstruction corsica.com, we do see a bit more nuance.
Girardi is again glaringly one of the worst defenders in the league in his impact on shots allowed. However, he doesn’t give up lots of high danger shots. Because of this, his impact on expected goals isn’t as drastic as his impact on shots. That aligns with what we saw above in that his impact on goals is not as drastic as his impact on shots. But let’s compare that to a player some Lightning fans didn’t want re-signed in Andrej Sustr.
Sustr is better by almost ever metric and ultimately much better in his impact on shots and better in his impact on expected goals. He is also far better using Dom Luszczyszyn’s (@domluszczyszyn) game score statistic, which measures single game performance.
The most damning assessment of all comes from DTMAboutHeart’s (@DTMAboutHeart) goals above replacement statistic, which is currently the best single metric we have for evaluating skaters. By that metric, Girardi ranks 297th out of 301 qualifying defenders. If we consider that each team should carry seven defenders, that means Girardi is well below replacement level and should not be in the NHL this season.
The Lightning already have seven defender who figure to play a role in 2017-2018. Their current depth looks something like:
Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr
Adding Girardi would almost certainly bump one of the younger players further away from the lineup. Dotchin and Koekkoek both need to be playing NHL minutes this year. Sergachev is expected to be ready to go this season as well.
In New York, even Ryan McDonough couldn’t keep Girardi afloat so it seems impossible that anyone other than Victor Hedman could possibly form a decent pairing with Girardi. And intentionally strapping an anchor to a Norris caliber defender just doesn’t make any sense.
The worst case scenario would be Girardi being deployed as a “safe” partner for either of Koekkoek or Sergachev kind of like how Shayne Gostisbehere had to haul Andrew MacDonald around the ice in Philadelphia. Just the thought of hearing the cliché criticism of young defenders as they struggle to compensate for the weaknesses of their experienced-but-generally-bad partner is already ruining the rest of the my week.
I cannot find a single reasonable scenario where signing Girardi makes sense for the Lightning. I guess if they’re just bringing him into camp similar to James Wisniewski last season, I could understand. But based on the timing of the reporting, that doesn’t seem to be the case. If Girardi was to ultimately take that kind of deal, it wouldn’t be at the beginning of free agency. Anyone talking to him now is considering signing him to be a part of the NHL club and that is concerning.
According to EvolvingWild’s (@evolvingwild) salary model, Girardi’s contract can be expected to land anywhere between $1.8 million and $2.4 million per year. While that doesn’t seem like much, just having him on the roster is a problem as discussed above. Every minute he plays is likely to be one less minute of development for one of the younger players on the Lightning’s blue line.
The possibility always exists that this rumor is...well...just a rumor. And let’s hope that’s the case. Because if not, this would be the worst personnel decision the Lightning have made in several years.