Though Dan Girardi’s career with the New York Rangers came to an unceremonious end, he deserves appreciation for what he did in his 11 seasons with the team. After New York bought out his contract, he spent two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, then announced his retirement after last season.
Girardi went undrafted in 2003 but the Rangers signed him to an entry-level contract after a strong 2004-05 season in the OHL. He briefly played in the ECHL in the 2005-06 season but spent most of the season in the AHL.
It sounds crazy now, but at the time he was known as an offensive defenseman, and he excelled in that role. He scored 8 goals and added 31 assists in 66 regular-season games, then scored four goals and added five assists in 13 playoff games. He continued his success in the 2006-07 season and earned his first opportunity to play in the NHL at 22 years old.
While he didn’t continue his big offensive production with the Blueshirts, Girardi found other ways to prove himself. He finished with no goals and six assists in 34 games but focused on his defensive play, was physical, and blocked lots of shots.
Breakout Season and Success
Girardi avoided getting sent back down to the AHL and established himself with the Blueshirts in 2007-08. He played in all 82 games, finishing with 10 goals and 18 assists, while averaging 21:12 in ice time per game. As he got stronger and smarter, he went from a top-four defenseman to a top-pair defenseman. From the 2009-10 season to the 2016-17 season, he finished in the top 10 in blocked shots every season and led the NHL twice.
Girardi became a rare breed for the Rangers, in that he was physical and put his body on the line every night but hardly ever missed games due to injury. He also showed that he wasn’t afraid to fight opponents to stick up for teammates. His best season came in 2011-12; while playing on the team’s top defense pair with Ryan McDonagh, he finished with 5 goals and 24 assists, averaging 26:15 in time on ice per game. He finished sixth in the voting for the Norris Trophy.
In the first round of the postseason he scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators. He finished the 2012 playoffs with three goals (all game-winners) and nine assists in 20 games.
Girardi had another strong year in 2012-13, including a memorable overtime goal against the rival New York Islanders. He signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension with the Rangers during the 2013-14 season. He once again helped the team make a playoff run that season, but struggled in the Stanley Cup Final as the Blueshirts fell to the Los Angeles Kings in five games. Still, he finished the postseason with a goal and six assists, while blocking 67 shots in 25 games.
The following season, Girardi was named an alternate captain. He provided some excellent moments, including the primary assist on Derek Stepan’s Game 7 game-winning goal in overtime in the second round of the playoffs against the Washington Capitals. Still, it was becoming evident that all of the blocked shots, hits, and games played were starting to take a toll on Girardi.
He was never known for his speed and over the next few seasons he struggled with his skating, but remained a valuable defensive defenseman who helped the team’s penalty kill. He missed 27 games because of injuries over the next two seasons after missing just five in his first nine NHL seasons.
Fans were tough on Girardi, at times booing him. His play didn’t match his contract and he was bought out after the 2016-17 season. Tributes poured in from coaches and teammates, including Henrik Lundqvist.
After two years with the Lightning, Girardi announced his retirement.
Now that it’s all over, I think Girardi deserves appreciation for everything he gave the Rangers over his 11 seasons in New York. He went from an undrafted player in the ECHL to a top-pair defenseman on a team playing for the Stanley Cup. He made some big plays in important games and had some memorable moments during his time with the team.
More importantly, no one could ever question his will to win. He wasn’t the most talented player in the league but Girardi was a leader. He was willing to put his body on the line and fearlessly block shot after shot every single game but hardly ever missed time.
Girardi sacrificed his body for the good of the team for 11 seasons, without hesitation. For that, he deserves the respect of everyone who roots for the Rangers.