After watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the sidelines the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed poised to be big players this summer. Tampa Bay’s defensive needs remained a top priority in the offseason, especially with the loss of Jason Garrison in the expansion draft. As free agency was ready to open, there were rumblings that the Lightning was interested in bringing Dan Girardi into the fold. There was an uproar from many fans. It may not have been the star blueliner that Lightning fans were hoping for but bringing Girardi in is far from a bad thing.
First things first: the Lightning weren’t going to sign Kevin Shattenkirk. They’d expressed an interest prior to this spring’s trade deadline and he nixed the move. Top players command a hefty price tag, one that Tampa wouldn’t have been able to afford without liquidating many other assets. Steve Yzerman is calculating when it comes to things like this. He wants to maintain continued success in the organization for years to come. The Bolts needed a steady hand that can contribute and that wouldn’t break the bank.
The departures of players like Brian Boyle, Valtteri Filppula, and Jason Garrison left a big void in Tampa’s veteran leadership. Girardi’s extensive experience, especially in the postseason, will be an asset to younger members of the organization that is transitioning to the show. There’s a very good chance guys like Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin will make the team coming out of camp. Defensemen take longer to mature into their position and there’s bound to be bumps in the road. Working with a seasoned veteran like Girardi can only help them to improve.
Girardi was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2006 by the Rangers. He spent most of his career as a top-pairing defenseman but the big contract and career decline led the Rangers to exercise the buyout The NHL is changing to more mobile defensemen and Girardi’s shot-blocking, the stay-at-home style wasn’t going to be a fit with New York at that high salary level.
It’s important to be realistic about Girardi’s addition to the team. The Lightning could use the services of a top four defenseman and Dan isn’t that guy anymore. He’s a stay at home defenseman coming off of a career low 15 points last season. There are a few key things he does bring to the table. He’s a coveted right-handed shooting defenseman who is adept on the penalty kill and is willing to block shots. Last year the Lightning often struggled to gain control in their own end. Girardi’s experience and stabilizing play can help settle things down to clear the puck. He can control and simplify the game which is ideal especially if he’ll be working with some of the younger blueliners.
More than anything else Girardi’s likely coming to Tampa with a chip on his shoulder. He knows he hasn’t been at his best in recent years. He’s played 122 career playoff games without winning the Stanley Cup. This two-year contract may be his last shot in the NHL and his final chance at becoming a champion. Fans and members of the media are already proclaiming his signing as a dud. That has to be a motivating factor for an athlete. Dan Girardi is finally healthy and hopefully, he’s coming to Tampa to prove everyone wrong.
(Feature photo/ Christine Gunn)