Dan Girardi & Comparable Defensemen

November 12th, 2014 at 2:55 pm by Derek

In the couple months that I’ve been on board here, I’ve written a non-trivial amount about how much I dislike the fact that Dan Girardi is a first-pair defenseman on a long-term, big-money deal for the Rangers. He stinks on the PK, doesn’t produce on the power play, and seems to be a boat anchor on virtually every teammate with whom he’s played major minutes at even strength. Many have wondered why in the world Sather gave Girardi a huge contract extension when he could have had Anton Stralman, arguably a much better defenseman, for similar, if not less, money.

However, I wanted to dig a little deeper to see if my disdain for Girardi was justifiable. After all, he does play the toughest minutes on the team, not to mention some of the toughest in the NHL. So, I set out to find a list of defenseman with comparable or tougher usage. I looked at the last three seasons and filtered out any defensemen who had a TOI%-weighted quality of competition less than one percentage point below Girardi’s value of 29.84%*. I then removed any defensemen with an offensive zone start% of greater than or equal to 50%. Girardi is at 46.24% in the last three seasons, and a few percentage points in zone starts doesn’t make much of a difference, so simply filtering out anyone who has more offensive zone starts than defensive zone starts is adequate. I also set a minimum 5v5 TOI of 1500 minutes. This gave me a list of 42 defensemen, including Girardi. Some of the names are the ones you’d expect (Chara, Subban, Hedman), while some others are quite a bit less heralded (Hejda, Weaver, Hainsey). These are the guys whose usage is most similar to Girardi’s; they’re the players that their coaches trust to shut down the opposition’s best players. If we want to truly judge his performance, we should compare him to this group.

*Note: I didn’t include quality of teammates in my analysis, because Girardi has one of the very highest TOI%-weighted quality of teammates in the league. Since I wanted to look at defenseman who had usage that was equal to or tougher than Girardi’s, I didn’t have to exclude anyone on the basis of having a QoT that as too high. However, in most analyses, QoT is actually the most important factor to consider in usage.

I pulled all available stats for my group of defensemen from WAR On Ice, and also picked up some Fenwick stats from Puckalytics. The three areas I wanted to focus on were goal ratio, possession, and shot suppression, as those are probably the most important aspects of a defenseman’s game at even strength. Ideally, your big-minute defenseman will keep pucks away from your goalie and be able to contribute to keeping pucks moving towards the other team’s net. If you’re interested in seeing the full dataset, I’ve made it publicly available right here. However, if you don’t feel like sorting through hundreds of cells’ worth of data, I’ve summarized the pertinent information below:

girardi_comparable_ranksIf you look at just the raw counting and percentage stats, Girardi doesn’t look so bad. However, he’s had the benefit of playing for what has been a very good possession team in two of the last three seasons. Those numbers are going to look better for him than they would if he was playing on a bad possession team like Toronto or Colorado. The relative stats, I think, tell the real story. He’s in the bottom half of the pack in terms of relative Fenwick, shot suppression (shown here as FA60RelTM), and is very near to the bottom in relative goal ratio. Compared to guys with similar usage, Girardi isn’t very impressive. In fact, he looks mediocre in the areas where we would expect a guy who has gained a high level of trust from two coaches to succeed. All things considered, I think it’s fair to say that Girardi isn’t a very good shutdown defenseman.

Despite this, his cap hit of $5.5M ranks fourth among his comparables, and 18th for all NHL defensemen. I can understand the Rangers not wanting to let Girardi walk away for nothing, but to make him one of the twenty highest paid defensemen in the league was absolute madness. Sure, he would have made at least that much on the open market, but that doesn’t mean that the Rangers were forced to give him that contract. There are clearly other defensemen out there who can perform better in Girardi’s role. They had one on the roster last season and let him leave for free agency without a serious offer! Signing Girardi for six more years at a hefty salary showed a fundamental lack of understanding about what constitutes a good first-pairing defenseman by Sather and the rest of management.

As bad as the contract looks now, it is only going to get worse as Girardi ages. Unfortunately, the Rangers will probably have to see this one until the bitter end. On top of that, Ryan McDonagh, who should be a superstar, is going to be saddled with Girardi on his right flank for the foreseeable future. The captain may be the biggest victim in all of this, unable to play to his peak because he’s covering up for the shortcomings of his partner. What a shame. At this point, all we can do is look on the bright side: at least we’re not playing McIlrath 25 minutes a night.

10 thoughts on “Dan Girardi & Comparable Defensemen

  1. paulronty

    Man, what is it with you that you are always beating up on Staal & Girardi and have this miscast bromance with Stralman, who is not a better D than either of those guys, analytics be damned. Those two guys are horses who play a lot of minutes and are way better than you give them credit for. You couldn’t even say a good word about Hunwick before the season started but he’s been OK. Stralman’s contract is the one that’s going to look worse & worse as time goes on.

    Reply
    1. Derek

      I think I’ve made a fair analysis on Girardi here. I’m not comparing him to guys getting easy minutes — these guys all play minutes that are just at least as tough as him. He’s below the middle of the pack. I don’t think that Girardi is a bad defenseman, but he’s not a very good #2 guy. Just because he CAN play a lot of minutes doesn’t mean that he should. I’m not sure why you seem so convinced that Stralman’s contract is going to look bad. He’s signed at a reasonable rate, and so far in Tampa he’s been succeeding at a high level on their first pair. He’s making the Rangers look very foolish for letting him go.

      Reply
      1. paulronty

        Evidence you mean like analytics? Who was the guy who showed that analytics showed that Hunwick was Rangers top player & Nash the worst. As Disraeli said, there are lies, damn lies & statistics. As a grad student I learned very well how stats can be used in inappropriate ways. My evidence? Let’s start with AV who lauded Staal a great deal last year. Since he’s an NHL coach and our chief talent evaluator that must count for something. All pieces of a team are interrelated so the team in front of a goalie is crucial. Remember the Gumper? with the Rangers , his numbers were dreadful. He gets traded to the Habs and wins two vezina trophies. Girardi plays against the other teams top players so you can’t compare him to Stralman who plays against inferior opposition. Sure he had a rough playoff but some of that was bad luck too. A bad bounce and a broken stick that led to a Brown Goal. The guy wasn’t even drafted but he does yeoman service. Mac has not played very well before his injury. Did you write about how bad he is and how Stralman is better?

        Reply
        1. Derek

          Would you care to elaborate on how my use of statistics here is “inappropriate”? Again, I’m comparing Girardi to guys who play the same level of competition that he does. I think I’m being pretty fair when I say that Girardi doesn’t stack up too well with the rest of those guys.

          Guess what? Stralman has played virtually the same level of competition as Girardi this season, yet he’s miles ahead of Girardi in puck possession.

          Dan Girardi’s draft status (and, for that matter, a goalie who played for the Rangers 50 years ago) literally does not matter one iota here — he is simply not a very good shutdown defenseman compared to his peers. You have yet to make a case that is remotely convincing otherwise.

          Reply
  2. blueshirts26

    I have a hard time believing they will saddle the captain with G once he starts becoming OBVIOUSLY bad (like, visually bad enough that the memories of him blocking a zillion shots under Torts and therefore being considered a “shutdown” defenseman are erased). They will have to play him, but I would hope his time on the top pair is running out. At this point the only argument I keep hearing is that he plays a lot of minutes and some combination of the words horse, gritty, warrior, etc.

    Then again, who is going to replace him? Unless Skjei blows the doors off in the next couple years, it’s going to have to be another big outside contract.

    Reply
    1. Derek

      Yeah, that’s the big issue. I wish they would have kept Stralman for that purpose, but that ship has sailed. Unless another guy like him falls into their laps, they’re going to have to find a guy via trade or free agency.

      Reply
      1. blueshirts26

        I think there’s a lot to be said for how they grabbed and developed Stralman (ignoring the decision to let him go, which as you say is pointless to keep rehashing). A guy like Hunwick could conceivably turn into a reliable defenseman given the right set of circumstances. Unfortunately he looks like he’s in offense mode 24/7 and the turnovers show it. He can skate though. I’d like to see them try to turn him into a possession machine if they can get his mind off of the “puck moving defenseman” archetype he wants to be.

        Reply
        1. bill goldthorpe

          I think there’s a lot to be said for how exceedingly difficult it is to find defensemen worth a damn. You don’t “turn a defenseman into a puck possession machine”. I’m not sure how Matt Hunwick in anyway relates to Anton Stralman.

          Reply
  3. paulronty

    Oh and by the way, I hope you are going to write a column about how Tanner Glass saved the day by clearing that sure goal out of the crease. He & Hunwick, there is 4 potential pts from their game saving plays. And my most fervent desire is that McIlrath(he of 1 1/2 yrs pro) makes you eat crow.

    Reply

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