The conundrum of signing Dan Girardi

The Tampa Bay Lightning signed Dan Girardi today and we have questions.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed defenseman Dan Girardi for two years with an AAV of $3 million. Girardi was recently bought out by the New York Rangers, a team he’s been with full-time since 2007. Many insiders saw this move coming days ago, and as soon as hints of it hit the airwaves, Lightning fans started reacting rather strongly.

The following quotes from Steve Yzerman were made on June 25th after the NHL Entry Draft. At the time it seemed like Yzerman was going to focus on Tampa’s own restricted free agents, and then sign a depth defenseman to assist the Lightning for this season:

Question: Now that the draft is over, how active do you think you'll be coming into next Saturday?

Yzerman: I don't know. We'll certainly have - with some of the things we've done, going back to last year's trade deadline, we've got spots on our roster open.

We've got some cap space. We need to do the best that we can to try and sign our own free agents. We're going to try and do that, so we'll be focused on that.

We will look into some of the players in free agency to see if we can address some of our needs that way. So it's going to be a busy week. What we actually accomplish, I'm not sure.

Question: You know Mikhail Sergachev is a great prospect. What does he have to show you to make the roster?

Yzerman: Just that he can play regular minutes. As a young player, we want him to play - any young player - we want him to be playing regularly in the lineup. Obviously we're trying to win games, so we want any player to come in that is going to help us win games.

For a younger player like that, we don't want him playing seven or eight minutes a night. We want him playing regularly. We'll let the situation play out. We'll give him an opportunity certainly to make the team and play, but he's going to have to earn it.

Question: Steve, how do you feel about where your defense is right now? Do you feel like you’re set or do you feel like you need to add a little more if you could?

Yzerman: Well I would look at any way to improve our team.

Yzerman saw fit to bring in the 33 year old (and recently bought out) defenseman Dan Girardi on a 2 year 6 million dollar contract that will pay him 3 million annually. His previous contract with New York was a 6 year 33 million dollar contract with an annual rate of 5.5 million.

Dan Girardi has been one of the poorer defensemen in the NHL for the past three seasons. His shot suppression numbers are low, and he has consistently had the ire of Rangers fans for quite some time. The following chart shows Girardi’s advanced metrics:

A more analytically inclined article from Alan (@loserpoints) was posted a few days ago here. He dives into the numbers and gives an explanation as to why Girardi is a strange signing.

The most interesting thing while looking at this chart is Girardi’s shot numbers (top left graph). When he is on the ice his team is out-shot by an average of 5.3 shots per game. Conversely, when he is off the ice his team out-shoots their opponents by an average of 1.1. The swing from -5.3 to 1.1 is -6.4. That gap is among the worst marks for all defenders in the NHL.

Interestingly, his Goals For area is good. There is still a sizable gap between his team’s performance when he is on and off the ice (2.0 on compared to 6.9 off, which is a gap of 4.9), but he at least has a positive differential in this regard. Henrik Lundqvist (and Antti Raanta this past season) could be part of the reason this particular statistic is positive.

Arguably, Girardi was misused in New York by Alain Vigneault. So far this off season, Yzerman has traded a 2017 2nd round pick, a 2018 4th round (PIT) pick, and the rights for Nikita Gusev to the Vegas Golden Knights to ensure they took Jason Garrison instead of Jake Dotchin or Slater Koekkoek during the Expansion Draft. The price was probably leaning on the “too much” side, but Yzerman was able to keep two young defensemen. That’s a rational move to make.

But why would Yzerman sign Girardi, who is 1) older than Garrison and 2) likely worse than Garrison? He did this for 2M less per year. It is an interesting decision to move one aging defenseman, state that you want to give the young kids a shot, and then sign a different aging defenseman who is going to take away a spot from one of those younger players.

With Girardi on the roster it leaves only one spot open for either Slater Koekkoek, Jake Dotchin, or Mikhail Sergachev. Sergachev is probably the first one to be omitted due to his age. Even if Sergachev plays magnificently during camp and the pre-season, he will likely be the first to be sent away from the main roster.

After that it’s a battle between Koekkoek and Dotchin. Koekkoek has the higher ceiling, but Dotchin is the “safer” defender of the two. Both Koekkoek and Dotchin could make the team and be effective, but with Girardi on board one of these two is either being sent to the press box or back to Syracuse.

Girardi is a risk. I’m assuming Yzerman wants this “veteran leader” on the team to help make us tougher to play against, but when you dive into what has already been covered by New York fans you see the player that Girardi has become over the years. Teams rarely buy out effective players.