The Tampa Bay Lightning season is over. With a long summer ahead of us, we’re going to hand out grades to each player on the roster. You did your part submitting your grades via the reader survey, and they are presented along with our writers’ grades. All told, about 360 of you submitted grades, which is less than last season, but that’s understandable considering how the season went. Follow along with the series through the month of May and share your thoughts in the comments.
It was a very serviceable season from Dan Girardi on the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was a regular defenseman for the team that finished first in the NHL. There was concern when he first joined the Bolts following several trying seasons in New York that he was going to be unplayable, and his contract an albatross. Nevertheless, we are at the end of the two-year journey and nothing is on fire. Except the fanbase.
That said, just because Girardi was in the lineup every night doesn’t mean he was helping. Take a look at his most-frequent partner, Victor Hedman, using 5v5 goal differential statistics from Natural Stat Trick. Girardi and Hedman together this season were a barely above water 52% goals pairing. The year before, Hedman won the Norris trophy with a season-long goals for ratio of 60%. Away from Girardi, Hedman was a 62% defenseman. He could’ve won another Norris. and just to complete the thought, Girardi played a mainly defensive role away from Hedman and was only able to put together a 48% goal differential.
Looking more granularly, Girardi also failed to reduce the quality of chances hitting both himself and the goaltenders he’s in front of. Full credit where it’s due, he was able to clear the front of the net very well and keep those high-danger chances from hitting the goalies. That, however, came at the cost of allowing far too many chances from the heart of the slot and not from the edges. Girardi seems to have been pushing forwards to the middle of the ice and away from the half wall. Why is a question still needing an answer.
The dots you can see forming at the top of the zone and near the top of the right faceoff circle tend to come from rush shots against where the forward is able to push the defenseman going up against him back and get a shot on target that begins a cycle or ends the shift with a faceoff in the zone. This data tends to match video from the season where Girardi seemed too slow to keep a close gap with the opposing forwards so he had to compensate by holding farther back in order to not get passed around the outside.
Long story short, Girardi was an NHL player this season, but not a very good one. Depending on your expectations for him heading into the year, that should put you somewhere in the C (average) to B (moderately surprised) range on the grading scale. I’m more inclined to put him in the lower end of that range mainly because he was a drag on Hedman’s numbers. Last year, Girardi gave us a good goal differential, but that result was surrounded by terrible shot differentials. Not to mention he was statistically very lucky with a well above average save percentage from the goaltending behind him. This year was no different. Girardi was a negative in every category.
At the end of the day, I think the Lightning can do better than Girardi in their hunt to get better, and for cheaper while in their hunt to fit their team under the salary cap. Ron Hainsey in Toronto, for example, put up better numbers in a similar role (old guy who plays on the top pair on the right side). Does anyone know if he likes the sun?
At 35, and with the miles that he put on his body with the Bolts and Rangers, it seems like a no-brainer to move on from him. He might retire, but then again who knows, the Rangers might call him home for one last hurrah as a veteran leader for a young team, or perhaps his former coach Alain Vigneault might feel the need to include him within a young defense core in Philadelphia where he has set up shop.
I think the NHL is tending toward a different style of defenseman and it doesn’t mesh with who Girardi is or was anymore. Look at the playoffs. You have big, but fast, puck-moving defensemen up and down the lineups. Especially in the East. The likes of Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Zach Werenski, and Seth Jones are at the top of the lineup, but then you have depth players like Brandon Carlo, Markus Nutivaara, and everyone else on Carolina. All of them are threats to move the puck forward and create chances. Whether they are playing on the top pair or not, they’re beating the opponent in front of them and that’s all that matters in the playoffs.
With the growth of players like Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, and Cal Foote in the AHL, there is potential for the Lightning to also be there. The kids just need time to catch up to the new wave. Will that be next year? Maybe. We’ll have to see in training camp whether some of these rear guards in their early 20s can hang. Something that other teams have done is give a young player an extra few months of fine tuning and call them up in the middle of the season. If a player like Foote or Dominik Masin doesn’t quite make it in camp, there should be an opportunity for them to win a job in 2020.