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A complicated ode to Dan Girardi

As many of you are now aware, long-time Ranger Dan Girardi announced his retirement from professional hockey on Friday.  All in all, G, as he was affectionately known, suited up in 13 NHL campaigns, appearing in 927 regular season contests plus 143 more in the playoffs as a member of the Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning.  We had something of a complicated relationship with Girardi over the years, but now that he has decided to hang up the skates, I’d like to reflect a bit on his career overall and his time with the Rangers.

Obviously, Girardi’s latter career with the Rangers was challenging, ultimately leading to his buy-out and subsequent signing with Tampa Bay.  It wasn’t always like that, however.  I remember Girardi’s first NHL season, 2006-2007.

I had recently graduated from undergrad at the time and it was the first time since childhood I remembered seeing some glimmers of hope within the organization. Henrik Lundqvist had taken the reigns from Kevin Weekes in goal, Ryan Callahan was seeing his first NHL action, Sean Avery began wreaking his particular brand of havoc and the major vets (Jagr, Straka, Nylander, Shanahan) were all still productive.

The blueline however, was an absolute disaster (imagine that, Rangers fans?).  Michal Rozsival and Marek Malik were objectively the best defensemen on the roster and the season saw a revolving door of journeymen like Jason Strudwick, Dave Liffiton, and Bryce Lampman supplement aging defenders like Sandis Ozolinsh, Paul Mara, Darius Kasparaitis and Aaron Ward. A young, undrafted OHL defenseman became a needed breath of fresh air.

Girardi played 34 games that first season, and while not much of a goal scorer (zero goals, in fact), tallied 6 helpers and played lock down defense, finishing with a positive 7 in +/-.  Now, this was right around the time that prospects were becoming all the rage as hockey transitioned into more of a young man’s game.  I remember wondering on multiple occasions if my positive assessment of Girardi was fueled by a barren prospect cupboard for multiple years under Glen Sather, or rather his presence was the beginning of an organizational transition to better management and internal development.

Fast forward a couple seasons and Girardi became a centerpiece of the blueline, which believe it or not was a legitimate strength during the Tortorella years.

You know how when you see someone for the first time in a while and you are shocked by any physical changes in weight, age, hairstyle, etc.?  On the other hand, when you live with a person or see them frequently, those changes happen more subtly and are less noticeable.  That’s what Girardi’s growth was like for me.  We spent every day watching him develop as a player, but we were so close to it, we hadn’t realized that he had become one of the best defenders in the NHL.

He was an iron man. From 2007-2008 through 2014-2015, Girardi missed a grand total of 5(!) games.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Five games. Over eight seasons. Absolutely insane. Of any complaints anyone could levy at Girardi, lack of durability was certainly not one of them.  The running joke became that he wasn’t actually human, at all, but some sort of advanced Canadian cyborg.

During his tenure in New York, the Rangers appeared in three Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final, winning one President’s Trophy and only failing to qualify for the playoffs once (that one is on you, Olli Jokinen).  He was an All-Star in 2012, is the all-time leader in blocked shots and served as the alternate captain of the team for 6 seasons.

Girardi was at the center of a long and successful run for the Rangers, one that introduced a new generation of fans to the Blueshirts and created a huge amount of affection from NYC.

However, at the trade deadline in 2014, the Rangers were at a crossroads.  Girardi and captain Ryan Callahan were scheduled to become free agents after the season, with Marc Staal following a year later.  We all know how that story ended; Callahan was shipped out to Tampa Bay for Martin St. Louis and Girardi signed a sizable six-year, $33 million extension.

The contract extension marked what became the beginning of the end for Girardi and the New York fanbase. The New York City market has a particularly savage way of calling out players’ performances when they feel they are overpaid. Coupling this deal with Marc Staal’s the following year placed unique salary cap pressure on offensively limited defenders in a changing game.

And change the game did. Over the first few years of the extension, the game seemed to speed up and Girardi seemed to slow down.  Maybe it was all those years of iron man performance, or all the blocked shots.  Girardi put his body on the line for his team for years and it seemed to be getting the better of him, finally.  Maybe he was just a product of a different era; an old school tough-as-nails defender who would clear the crease, block shots and stand up for his teammates.

As the game transformed into a possession and transition framework, players like Girardi were left behind.  Despite years of dedicated service and quiet professionalism, it appeared the end was near.

That end finally came in 2017, when the Rangers announced they intended to buy out the remaining three years of Girardi’s deal.  With the expansion draft looming and the salary cap tightening, the organization cut ties with a once-core piece of the team’s most recent run of success.  As we all know, Girardi played his final two seasons in Tampa, with similar results to New York.  He was more appropriately utilized in Florida, but those two seasons saw the types of disappointing ends that he grew accustomed to at the Garden.

One of the biggest problems that I have personally with the whole situation was the usage.  Alain Vigneault insisted upon playing Girardi huge minutes and in the most crucial situations when he knew Girardi’s play had declined.  He did not put him in the best position to succeed and drew unnecessarily intense fan ire for his performance in that role.  Had Vigneault recognized that all the years of wear and tear had taken their toll on Girardi, he could have sheltered him from both top competition and the vitriol from fans.  I guess it’s no surprise that Vigneault himself was put out to pasture not long after.

As Rangers fans, our relationship with Girardi was a complicated one.  Like a romantic relationship that starts off full of promise and excitement, ultimately to wither despite best efforts.  I can’t help but think of Ulysses by Tennyson;

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

No one can ever say that Girardi did not give his absolute all to the New York Rangers franchise, and despite the bitter end to his tenure here, I think we should all be grateful for the years of dedication, passion, pride and selflessness that should be his mark on the franchise.

Good luck in retirement G, you were a warrior on the ice and a gentleman off it.  Some fans won’t be able to look past those few painful years, but for all the criticism and brutal honesty, you should be remembered as a great Ranger.

"A complicated ode to Dan Girardi", 5 out of 5 based on 31 ratings.
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9 Comments

  1. Interesting write up on Girardi’s Ranger tenure. Very similar to Eli Manning and the JInts!

  2. Girardi, was a credit to the Ranger sweater.
    Some here mocked him, and I feel that was completely uncalled for. The tremendous amount of punishment Dan took while blocking shots is hard to comprehend. And it didn’t matter if those shots came from a marginal NHL player or Alex Ovechkin, Girardi never hesitated. Unlike some high paid free agents who didn’t earn their salaries, such as Holik and Dan Boyle for example and their are many others, Girardi earned every cent, each and every game. Want a role model for young up and coming players, look no further.
    I wish him and his family health and happiness in Dan’s retirement.

  3. Great Tennyson quote Justin — so apropos in Girardi’s case.

    I’ll forget those last couple of years when the old warrior’s talents started to diminish and AV failed to recognize it. Let’s remember the good times, Girardi was a great blue collar player in his time and a credit to the organization — in fact I hope they find a place for him somewhere in the organization, he represented all the character qualities you want to see in a player.

  4. During both of the 2 seasons that this organization was so close to lifting the cup, G was a huge reason why!

    He lived long enough in a Rangers uniform to see himself become the villain. (what movie?)

    Godspeed Dan Girardi #5

    LGR!!!!

  5. Let’s remember that the Ranger collapse came with the Girardi buyout and not with the Girardi contract.

    One strength of Dan Girardi is often overlooked and that was his stamina. We think of playing time as a coach’s decision, but that is not always the case. In the 1980s, the Rangers had an exciting defenseman named Reijo Ruotsaleinen. I loved him and I think most fans did as well, but the coach was not a fan. He really did not have the stamina to play a standard shift and so really had to be short-shifted to be effective.

    Dan Girardi was just the opposite. He could stay out there for two and half minutes and still contribute when he got caught on the ice. This was even true his first year in Tampa Bay. Stats rate how well a player does when he is on the ice, but they don’t really catch how long a player can be left on the ice. I might even advance the ridiculous possibility that Esa Lindell is the best defenseman in the game. Certainly he is rated far below his pairing mate Klingberg, but the fact that this pair is so good is evidence for Lindell. What Lindell did in the playoffs is amazing though. In one game, Dallas committed many penalties and he came pretty close to playing the right side for every minute of every penalty. That is the kind of stamina Dan Girardi had.

  6. The quote from Ulysses is one I will reuse often. A great life lesson and one particularly applicable to fandom for great heroes as their skills diminish while their desire remains.

    The reality is time spares no one. And to quote Branch Ricky : “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.” Dan was a warrior but his last few years were pretty brutal. As time passes he will be remembered for his warrior like mentality.

  7. Dan Girardi played the game with heart and determination. He was an inspiration to watch on the ice and a class act off the ice. He gave it his all game in and game. Those are the players who I admire the most.

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