The Tampa Bay Lightning signed Dan Girardi, the former New York Rangers defenseman, to a two-year contract worth an average of $3M per season this morning. In doing so, they have acquired a defenseman who simply isn't capable of keeping up in today's game, and was bought out in New York as a result.
When you look at Girardi's signing in a vacuum, it is what it is. It's a bad contract for a now-bad player, but those get dished out in the NHL all the time these days. Where things get confusing specific to the Lightning is that, just last week, the team gave up Nikita Gusev's rights, a second-round pick, and a fourth-round pick so they could unload Jason Garrison's contract. This move was presumably made to open up a spot for one of the kids to play, such as a Slater Koekkoek or Mikhail Sergachev. Instead, the Lightning chose to give up those assets to get rid of Garrison so that they could fill the spot with a worse player and an extra year of term:
Quite frankly, it's one of the more peculiar things that this organization, or any organization, has done for a while. The choice between Garrison and Girardi should not have been a tough one, especially with Garrison's contract only being for one more season. From @MimicoHero:
Garrison has been and is a better player than Girardi at this stage in their respective careers; the only area of the game where Girardi has "outperformed" Garrison in recent history is the amount of ice time he's been fed by his coaches. Merit clearly has little to do with it. Perhaps the most shocking thing on the chart above is the shot suppression metric. Billed as a stay-at home, defensive defenseman, Girardi doesn't even register as having an impact on shot suppression.
Beyond the fact that Girardi alone hasn't been particularly good for a few seasons now, the impact he has on his teammates is equally frightening. As the Lightning aim to bring up players like Koekkoek, Sergachev, and Dotchin, they can't afford to have them paired with an anchor such as Girardi. Consider the following chart from Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, which shows the with-or-without-you figures for Girardi and his two most common forward linemates and two most common defensive linemates:
He's not making his teammates better. He is actively dragging them down to never-before-seen depths. Given the price paid to acquire a player like Sergachev, and the fact that they spent a first-round pick on Koekkoek, it's likely best that those guys are kept as far away from Girardi as possible. He might be the greatest veteran presence in the world, but developing young players simply cannot be thrown into a situation where they will be expected to carry this much (read: all) of the load. It's not fair, it's not good for their development, and the lasting impact on them could be devastating to the organization.
The final balloon to pop is this idea that the signing is fine because it's clear that Girardi will just be playing bottom-pairing minutes for Tampa. It would be fine... if Girardi could perform at a bottom-pairing level. Recent history shows that he's past that point in his career. Again, from @MimicoHero:
It's not fine.
The bottom line: There is no good spot for Dan Girardi on a roster that see itself as some sort of Cup contender. The New York Rangers realized this, but unfortunately the memo appears to have skipped over Steve Yzerman's desk. This, my friends, is the head-scratcher of all head-scratchers. There is no rhyme. There is no reason. We don't need to take a "wait and see" approach; sometimes a player just is what he is. I'm sure Dan Girardi is a really nice guy, and he had a fantastic career in New York, but time and the speed at which the game of hockey is played today have both passed him by.
As always, thanks for reading.