Anyone watching the Rangers to begin the year wouldn’t have foreseen this (individual) turnaround. Anyone paying close attention to the Rangers’ popular no. 5 for most of last year wouldn’t have predicted this scenario either. However, without doubt – thanks to the impressive turnaround in his play – Dan Girardi has become an essential, can’t-be-allowed-to-leave piece of the Rangers puzzle.
Girardi was error prone throughout the Rangers indifferent start to the season. Rather than being part of the solution he was part of the problem. However, the past two months have seen Girardi return to being the indispensible, minute eating, shot blocking rock on the Rangers blueline. Over the past ten games, only three times has Girardi had less than 3 blocked shots. Only twice over the same period has Girardi not being credited with at least two hits. He’s back to his shutdown best.
Girardi’s return to his old form has coincided with the Rangers extended hot streak and has helped the Rangers really develop a core to match even the best teams in the league. With Henrik Lundqvist’s return to form, three capable offensive lines, strong special teams and a dominant top defensive pair (Girardi and Ryan McDonagh), the Rangers are becoming a team no one will want to face come playoff time. This all brings us to the already much discussed free agency and Girardi’s opportunity to cash in.
Barring ridiculous demands out of Girardi’s camp, the Rangers simply have to bring him back. How many teams can boast three players such as Girardi, McDonagh, Marc Staal? It’s an enviable trio of blueliners, none of whom are long in the tooth. Without having to pay more than Girardi would command, there is absolutely no way Girardi can be replaced in free agency, especially as the likes of Dion Phaneuf have already come off the market ahead of the free agent ‘frenzy’.
A look at the pending free agent defensemen suggest underwhelming options (a reason why the recently-strong Anton Stralman also stands to cash-in this summer). Quality defensemen such as Dan Boyle and Andrei Markov will likely be off the market by July and even if they are not, both are well over that dangerous 35th year. Markov also carries great health risk.
Beyond aging veterans such as Boyle, looking for viable alternatives is tricky depending on what you think of players such as Brooks Orpik, Matt Greene or Mark Stuart. A quick scan of the available defenseman would suggest none of the current pending UFA list even comes close to matching Girardi’s defensive game, durability and/or decent offensive output.
Girardi has had a difficult twelve months or so, a period where his form wasn’t what Rangers fans had come accustomed to, but the recent return of the vintage Girardi has made him (once again) indispensable. Girardi isn’t perfect, but whenever you have a top pair blueliner who never gets hurt, eats up minutes and can handle any superstar in the league on any given night, you don’t let him leave. Girardi’s getting paid and it sure as hell needs to be by the Rangers. The Rangers don’t really have another option.