Goodbye to you: Thank you Dan Girardi!


Derek Stepan, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi

New York Rangers’ Derek Stepan, left, is congratulated on his goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets by teammates Marc Staal, center, and Dan Girardi during the third period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. The Rangers beat the Blue Jackets 4-2. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

In sports, we get attached to players as fans. When they leave, it’s always sad and emotional. The news came today that the Rangers bought out Dan Girardi. They made it official on Twitter.

It was a announcement that was expected. Even if for myself and other Girardi supporters, it was bittersweet. When it comes down to it, sports are a business. From a economical standpoint, the Rangers couldn’t afford to keep Girardi anymore. He was still owed $13 million over the remaining three years of his contract at a average cap hit of $5.5 million.

The 33-year old proud veteran gave everything to the franchise. One of Glen Sather’s best moves as GM was signing the undrafted free agent from Welland, Ontario. Nobody knew who he was when he joined the organization in 2005. After spending a year and a half honing his skills in the AHL with Hartford, Girardi got the call to the big club during ’06-07.

In the fun days of the Henrik Lundqvist Era featuring Jaromir Jagr and the cohesive European top line with Michael Nylander and Martin Straka, those teams gave the Garden Faithful hope. In Year 2 of the post-lockout new NHL, the Rangers made the second round of the playoffs for the first time since ’97. A good roster that also featured Brendan Shanahan, Matt Cullen, Ryan Callahan, Pete Prucha, Sean Avery, Marek Malik, Michael Rozsival and Fedor Tyutin swept the Thrashers.

When Straka scored with over two minute shots left to break a scoreless tie in the third period of Game 5 at Buffalo, it looked like the young Rangers were a team of destiny. But Chris Drury’s goal with 7.7 seconds remaining followed by Maxim Afingenov’s power play goal in overtime broke Blueshirt hearts. Despite a heroic performance from Jagr, they fell a goal short in Game 6 to lose the series.

As time went on, Girardi graduated to top pair status with Marc Staal. They formed a good tandem under coach John Tortorella, who eventually moved future captain Ryan McDonagh up while sliding Staal down. Girardi was the one constant. What he lacked in talent he made up for in blood and guts. A warrior who sacrificed for the team by diving to block dangerous shots like one rocket from P.K. Subban in a loss at Montreal, Girardi always brought the lunch pail work ethic to the rink. He could be counted on to log big minutes including on the penalty kill where he became a fixture.

Girardi lasted 11 years due to his will. Without number 5, there are no deep runs in 2012, ’14 and ’15. Eventually, his body broke down from the physical and gritty style he played. It’s still amazing that he returned and played through a messed up knee in ’15-16 when he really needed rest. That was more about Alain Vigneault, who overused him and Staal when they weren’t 100 percent. By the time the playoffs rolled around, they were mince meat against the eventual two-time Stanley Cup champion Pens.

Not much was expected of Girardi this year. Many wondered if he could still survive the grind of a 82-game season and be effective in the postseason. While the cynics cried over spilt milk, Girardi bounced back with a solid year getting into 63 games with a ankle injury keeping him out in March. Of course, he returned to finish the regular season and was penciled in by Vigneault with McDonagh on the top pair against first round opponent Montreal.

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It was in that physical series that Girardi excelled. He proved that he still has something left. Playing a very active physical game finishing checks with a few memorable hits while playing responsibly defensively, he was terrific in a six-game series win over the Canadiens. Even the detractors took notice.

In the Rangers’ six-game second round elimination to the Senators, it wasn’t about him. The losses in Games 2 and 5 were self inflicted. Those were games they used to put away. It didn’t matter who Vigneault sent out. They didn’t get the job done blowing a two-goal lead in Game 2 and a one-goal lead in Game 5 to lose in excruciating fashion in sudden death.

The sad part is it was a very winnable series. Maybe the last hurrah with a group that could be losing more core players if the Derek Stepan trade rumors are true as reported by well respected Bob McKenzie. Ditto for Staal, who struggled mightily against Ottawa. If they can’t find a taker for his salary which still has four years remaining at a $5.7 million hit, the other proud elder statesman could become a cap casualty like Girardi.

If general manager Jeff Gorton goes in that direction, the Rangers will have a totally different look on the blueline. The thinking is that they’ll reach agreement with impending UFA Brendan Smith on a new contract. He was very effective after coming over from Detroit. A deal around $4.5 million per year over four should get it done. The development of Brady Skjei will make him a top four defenseman.

With Kevin Klein reportedly retiring from the NHL to pursue other opportunities in Europe, the Rangers save $2.5 million. There will be a complete overhaul if Staal is bought out. I don’t see the point in keeping him. He’s a shell of himself due to the concussions. The sport is very unforgiving.

As for Girardi, he showed why he is one of the classiest players to represent the Broadway Blueshirts. In a press release, he expressed his gratitude to the organization, teammates and of course thanked the loyal fans.

Of course reading it made me sad and want to shed tears for a heart and soul player who loved being a Ranger. Girardi is one of the classic overachievers who worked hard to become a shutdown D who even was an All-Star with his peers showing respect. Claude Giroux called him underrated.

When your opponents respect you, it shows a lot and explains how much true character Girardi had. He competed as hard as anyone that wore the jersey.

I’ll miss him. Whatever happens, I wish him and his family nothing but the best. I hope it’s not the end. I heart Danny G. Thank you for your many sacrifices that made this team a Cup contender and for always being accountable.

Dan Girardi is a winner. Thank you Danny G!!!!!

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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