It’s no mystery. Dan Girardi was pretty terrible to start the season. The switch from a shot-blocking system to an overload system exposed the defenseman’s skating a bit, and he was torched by the same players who he used to defend so well in previous years. The problems weren’t just limited to defense either. Even though he’s not known for his scoring, Girardi still took a whopping 15 games to record his first point and 18 games to notch his first goal.
Over those first 25-30 games, Girardi took a whipping from us. But over the last 15-20 games, Girardi has found his legs, and appears to have adapted to the system. It’s tough to quantify a defensive defenseman’s worth via stats, especially when there’s a chance his stats could be skewed by playing with Ryan McDonagh. That said, Girardi is still being used as the team’s top defenseman on the right side. He gets a ton of PK time, he is facing top competition, and he is doing so with less than 50% of his starts happening in the offensive zone. Axel Fant-Eldh was able to put together this chart showing how Girardi’s resurgence has been evident as well.
But it is the qualitative (eye) test that really shows Girardi’s improvements over the last month or so.
When we were noting Girardi’s slide in play, we were noticing how he is often caught out of position, or snow angels too much on normal rushes. Our goal breakdowns from earlier in the year almost always mentioned Girardi. But these mistakes are now becoming few and far between. As the goal breakdowns become more recent, the less often we mention a turnover from Girardi, or a snow angel, or just bad positioning.
They say the best compliment you can pay to a defenseman is to say you didn’t notice him. As the season has moved into December and January, we aren’t noticing Girardi as much. Yes, he’s prone to the brain fart every now and again, but every single player in this league has brain farts. Except Pavel Datsyuk.
Much is being made over Girardi’s market value, his trade value, and whether or not the Rangers should keep Girardi around. Admittedly, it will be tough to turn down an offer of two young stud prospects and a first round pick (rumored value) for Girardi. The Rangers should –and will– do their homework there. The Rangers will also do their best to try and keep the defenseman, as right-handed shots made of cyborg parts (missed four games in his entire career) are a rare find.
Girardi has taken a giant leap forward as he adjusts to Alain Vigneault’s new defensive zone style of play. It took him longer than expected, but I guess that should have been planned for since his entire career has been based around a low zone collapse. It takes more than 2 months to re-train your brain from zone defense to overload. Girardi is a major part of the recent 6-2-1 run for the Rangers, and his continued strong play will be an important piece to any playoff run.