Dan Girardi has been a polarizing player this offseason, by no fault of his own. The 32 year old defenseman, who has spent his entire career in New York, played most of last season with a cracked kneecap. For all of his faults, Girardi has brass cajones for playing through the entire season like that. But that said, he is 32, is coming off this injury, and has a lot of wear and tear on his body.
The front office and coaching staff are expecting Girardi to have a bounce back season. Those who have been looking at his underlying numbers for the past few seasons don’t believe this is possible for a number of reasons. But is it possible for Girardi to have this bounce back season that we all hope for?
The case for a bounce back season
Girardi had one of the worst seasons for a defenseman in recent memory. That’s no hyperbole either, as his 41.7% CF last season was the 17th worst performance by any defenseman who played 1,000 minutes in a season since 2007-2008 (data courtesy of corsica.hockey). That’s terrible, and there’s no other way to put it.
But for Girardi, there really is no other direction to go but up. A cracked kneecap slowed him significantly, which says a lot considering skating isn’t his strongest point to begin with. Add in that injury, and you get a guy that can barely move. He will be able to move next year.
Another case for his bounce back season: The 41.7% CF was the lowest of his career by a whopping 4.3% (2014-2015’s 46%). He is just two years removed from his last close to 50% CF season as well. With proper usage, he could see rebounding numbers and effectiveness.
Which brings us to the final case for his bounce back season. There is a pretty decent chance that Girardi will not be locked into his top pairing role with Ryan McDonagh. Even with two healthy knees, Girardi has been slowing down for a while and dragging McDonagh’s performance down. When Girardi was dropped to the second pair and replaced by Kevin Klein, McDonagh and Klein clicked and were significantly more effective. If Girardi is dropped to the second pair, there is hope for that bounce back season.
Girardi really has no other way to go but up.
The case against a bounce back season
The case against is focused around three things for Girardi: His age, his declining performance, and wear and tear on his body.
At 32 years old, Girardi is reaching that point where expecting a bounce back season is more hope than expectation. As the NHL gets younger and faster, it’s rare to see someone who is already noted as a weak skater rebound in a manner that folks are expecting. That may be the point that many are missing: Girardi is a slow skater in a fast league that is only getting faster.
Not only is Girardi another year older, but he’s had even more wear and tear on his body. Girardi’s style of play is to block shots, and he has missed just 11 games in his entire career. Total. And eight of them were last season. That style of play is killer, and the decline for players like this isn’t slow, it’s a cliff. We don’t know what long term effects may come from playing an entire season on a cracked kneecap either.
Last season wasn’t Girardi’s first declining season either. He started to slip as early as January, 2014. It’s gotten progressively worse since, and then last season he fell off a cliff. It’s not like this was a blip on the radar. His effectiveness had been slipping for a while. Expecting a bounce back season to pre-2014 is a bit much, and probably unrealistic.
So which will it be?
I’m of the belief that Girardi will perform better than last year’s monstrosity of a season. He won’t be this ineffective, especially if he’s healthy and removed from the top pair. That said, expecting him to get back to pre-Alain Vigneault days is blind hope. He won’t get to that level again. The best hope is that he can put up respectable bottom pairing numbers, while other defensemen start taking the brunt of the ice time."Can Dan Girardi have a bounce back season?",