After years of debate, it seemed like most of the hockey world agreed recently that Dan Girardi might be a little … overmatched as an NHL defenseman. Even his biggest proponents would probably acknowledge that years of wear-and-tear have left him limited.
Even so, the generally shrewd Tampa Bay Lightning handed Girardi a polarizing two-year, $6 million contract. There might have been talk of Girardi scoring well based on their own internal metrics. It was weird.
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The bottom line is that at least someone in the organization disagrees with the consensus against Girardi. And that voice – or those voices – proved loud enough to allocate precious cap space to him.
To really hammer home that belief, consider this: it looks like he’ll line up with popular PHT Norris pick Victor Hedman on the top pairing tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Now, it’s true that there are some extenuating circumstances. The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith notes that Jake Dotchin, Hedman’s most common preseason partner, looks to be a surprise scratch for the Bolts. It seems like Dotchin is still in Jon Cooper’s dog house for some murky “team rules violation.”
Perhaps it’s a balm for Bolts fans that Cooper told Smith that combos might be temporary?
“You look all around the league, I don’t know if there’s a d-core that has stayed completely intact,” Cooper said. “Maybe Nashville, but (Ryan) Ellis is hurt. Different guys have got to play and get a different feel for each other. It’s Game 1, there’s 82 in a season. You hope chemistry comes because we don’t know if this is going to stay together the whole time. But you’ve got a good veteran guuy that can protect the net and you’ve got a horse that leads the charge out there. For tonight, that’s how it’s going to go.”
Still, the Lightning clearly hold Girardi in higher regard than … just about any objective measure.
You might not see a more dramatic disparity between two HERO charts than Hedman vs. Girardi. Confession: I didn’t know that a player could score poorly enough on shot suppression to not even show up on the chart.
OK, again, Hedman will make most defensemen look bad. And maybe there’s some thought that he can carry Girardi around; the other pairings appear to be Anton Stralman – Mikhail Sergachev and a less inspiring third duo of Andrej Sustr and Braydon Coburn, with Slater Koekkoek joining Dotchin in street clothes.
What about Girardi against, say, Dom Galamini’s standards for a bottom-pairing duo?
Yeah, also not great.
Again, the Lightning’s lineup will probably look more sensible once Dotchin leaves timeout.
Still, as much as injuries and bad luck plagued the Lightning, it’s a little troubling to see certain patterns from Cooper & Co.
Sergachev could very well end up filling a serious need for the Bolts. Still, while Jonathan Drouin seemingly always struggled to gain Cooper’s approval, an extremely limited player like Sustr keeps getting chances, often taking away opportunities for defensemen with better potential. If Girardi serves a similar role, Lightning fans could grow increasingly frustrated, particularly if this places excessive pressure on Andrei Vasilevskiy to save the day.
It’s not the end of the world that Girardi is starting with Hedman, especially if it’s a short-term thing.
For a team that’s often seen as brilliant, decisions like these do make people scratch their heads, however.