Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dan Girardi: From Goat to Great, Why He Must Be An All-Star

Yesterday in looking at the Rangers All-Star candidates I looked at Brandon Dubinsky and how his elevated played both in the statistical and non-statistical areas has earned him the right to go to the game.  Luckily for me Dubinsky decided to go out and have a very good game, scoring a goal and having a key hit that sparked a lackluster early third period to get his team going in their comeback attempt. Today in part two of the series I am going to switch to the defense and look at the blocking machine that is Daniel Girardi and his transformation from whipping boy to irreplaceable in a matter of months.
This summer the Rangers re-signing Dan Girardi to a 4 year 13.3 million dollar deal was not seen as universally popular with the Rangers fans in length and especially in dollars after the less than stellar year he put up last season.  Girardi’s year last year got off to a very sluggish start and he never fully recovered from it though he did show signs the very good defenseman was still in there to be brought back out.  I think the adjustment to the desire of coach Tortorella for his D to be more offensive minded impacted Girardi as much as anyone last year.  There were many fans over the course of the end of last season and the summer that were willing to even let Girardi walk, though for many of them I would garner a guess that the incident in Philadelphia where Girardi failed to step in for Marian Gaborik against Dan Carcillo was a large motivating factor in those sentiments. 
In my own mind late last year I wondered if Sather was going to re-sign Girardi and when the deadline came around with all the 2nd round picks being thrown around I was willing to give up Girardi if the Rangers could get value like that.  Let me be the first to praise Sather for not doing it if it was ever offered because as good as the Rangers have been in drafting in the 2nd round lately, Girardi is an irreplaceable part of this team that is far underappreciated for his value.  When Sather kept the focus for me shifted into what to expect for his contract and for me the market had been set at something like 4 years 11.5 million dollar range and so when Sather gave him 13.3 I thought he overpaid by the typical Sather 500K a year.  Once again let me be the first to say that the way Girardi has played so far this season he has made Sather look like a genius and himself seem underpaid to go along with that under-appreciated tag.
In 19 games this season Dan Girardi ranks in the top 20 among NHL defensemen in the following categories: Time on Ice (TOI) – 13th (24:44/G); TOI Short-handed -3rd (4:10/G); Plus Minus – T-18th (+7); Hits – T-14th (40); Blocked Shots – 1st (59); Takeaways – T-15th (10).
Obviously most of those categories are of the defensive sort, but that is 4 categories any regular fan would follow when looking at the value of a defenseman and in a league of 30 teams in each of those the Rangers have the same guy in the top 18 of all of them.  Also on the offensive side of the puck Girardi has more than held his own having 1 goal and 8 assists (currently T-22nd among D) in the 19 games so far which puts him on pace for a 38 point season which is excellent, especially when added to his defensive prowess so far.  A large reason for the improvement in the offensive numbers has been both an increase in Girardi’s willingness to shoot the puck and an improvement in his ability to get shots through traffic and on net for either rebounds or deflections.
Girardi will never be an offensive monster so I want to go back and focus on the work he has done defensively.  In this new NHL the number of defensemen who play huge minutes has drastically come down over the years and to have a guy who can eat 25 minutes a night is a huge advantage for teams because it allows them to hide their weaker defense from seeing the ice as much.  Girardi can be trusted to play in all situations, but he makes his money with his work on the penalty kill typically paired with Marc Staal.  Over the past few seasons with a struggling offense the penalty kill has been one of the keys to the Rangers viability has been their excellent PK unit and Girardi has always been one of the leaders.  The PK got off to a slow start this season because of injuries and a sluggish Marc Staal, but Dan Girardi was always steady and now that others have kicked up the PK is in full stride killing off 23 of 24 chances in the last seven games.
The key for Girardi has always been his willingness to sacrifice his body for the sake of the team in blocking shots and giving hits, neither of which has been given enough credit before this season.  Suddenly because the entire Ranger team is playing a more physical game his hits are noticed and because the entire defense not just Girardi along with Drury and Callahan up front are blocking huge numbers Dan is recognized for his blocking prowess.  Last season Girardi had a balanced 178 hits (13th among D) and 180 blocked shots (6th among D), at the pace he is currently on he will end the year with 172 hits and an amazing 254 blocked shots.  It is this kind of sacrifice of the body that is leading this Rangers team to a more unified unit and showing that Dan Girardi is one of those lead by example types for the entire team and especially the young defense core he helps lead.
The prime example for me of the toughness and leadership I am talking about with Girardi happened Monday night against the Penguins when he get smashed in the nose by a puck because he was blocking a pass, bleed all over the ice, went into the locker-room got stitched and only missed one shift.  If there is anyone who still questions the man’s toughness or dedication to this club after what he showed Monday obviously has other motivations or just cannot let go of the past.  It is time to let go of Philadelphia and what happened and stand up and give an ovation to the best defenseman the Rangers have had all season to this point for all he is willing to do without a word being written on it.  It is because of all these things ownership gladly signs the checks for him understanding that in a matter of months he might have gone from looking overpaid to grossly undervalued in the marketplace.
I said last week in an article that give me a defenseman who can defend his own net first and I will worry about getting my offense from other places, well Dan Girardi with his sound positioning, shot blocking and hitting is that type of defenseman and he deserves to be rewarded for his stellar play that too often goes unnoticed and certainly doesn’t make headlines and prove that flash is not all that makes an All-Star game.