As of this writing, a basic analysis of the Jackets' current performance can be summarized as follows: they are a high-scoring team (seriously), currently sitting seventh in the NHL at 2.89 goals per game. They are decidedly middle-of-the-road on special teams, ranking 16th on the powerplay and 17th on the penalty kill. While it's been proven in the past that a team can win the Stanley Cup with average special teams (Boston a couple of years ago won it all with a 16th-ranked kill and 20th ranked powerplay) teams cannot win if they can't keep the puck out of their net.
Columbus is currently 17th in the league in goals-against per game. Granted, since the calendar flipped to 2014 the team has improved across the board, but nonetheless this particular stat needs to improve if the Jackets are to make any sort of noise down the stretch, and hopefully, in the playoffs.
To start the season, Sergei Bobrovsky was not playing anywhere close to the level he was at last season, en route to the Vezina. To make matters worse, he spent time on the IR and backup Curtis McElhinney was serviceable, at best. After returning from the disabled list however, Bobrovsky's play has returned to an elite level and unsurprisingly the team has taken off.
That said, the Jackets give up a ton of shots. Shots lead to goals, even with a stud stopper in net. They are currently ranked 21st in the league, giving up 30.6 shots per game, on average.
One way to improve the number of shots against is to tighten up defensively, which is of course a team effort. It's a commitment by all five skaters to prevent the opposition from getting shots through to their net. But If you have defensemen who are especially willing to, and adept at blocking shots, you have an immediate advantage.
That's where Dan Girardi comes in.
Girardi is your prototypical shutdown defenseman. He leads the Rangers in blocked shots, sitting 15th in the league in that category. His willingness and ability to ensure the puck stays away from his goaltender is well noted.
While the blocked shots statistic is of note to a team like the Jackets that needs to reduce the number of opposition shot attempts, Girardi offers much more. He's a minute-muncher, sitting second on the Rangers at 22:39 per game. He leads the team in hits at 132, and gobbles up the most PK icetime on the Rangers at 58.6%. He's also given the highest number of defensive zone starts for a blueliner on the Rangers, showing the coaching staff's trust of his play in the defensive zone. He also faces the greatest quality of competition among Ranger defenders five-on-five. All numbers are thanks to NHL.com and Extra Skater.
His offensive totals are modest, with a line of 3-12-15 in 56 games played, but his game is all about keeping the puck out.
Girardi's name has been floated around as potentially being available due to his impending UFA status. Bob McKenzie of TSN is on-record saying that he (along with Ryan Callahan) are likely to be actively shopped if they can't sign new deals with the Rangers by the trade deadline.
Negotiations are apparently ongoing between the Rangers and Girardi, but there are no guarantees that a deal will get done. From Larry Brooks:
Sources have told The Post that though Girardi is seeking a six-year deal in the neighborhood of $5.5 million per season, the Blueshirts have countered with a six-year deal in the neighborhood of $5.2 million per season or a five-year contract worth approximately $5.7 million per season. In this case, it seems as if there is a deal to be made.
If the Rangers are unable to get a deal done, the Jackets would be looking to sign him to similar numbers to retain his services beyond this year, if a trade were to go down.
That's what we have to talk about next. If the Jackets were to trade for Girardi, they would be doing it because they feel Girardi is a part of the future, not a rental player. The cost to acquire him would likely be a first round pick and either a player or prospect, or perhaps both. According to Cap Geek, the Jackets have about 1.12 million in cap space, meaning a contract would have to be sent back to New York to make the dollars work. Nikita Nikitin's value is at its highest point of the season, and he is on an expiring contract. This should be of interest to the Rangers, who have plenty of cap space already. The Rangers lack talent and depth in all areas of their prospect pool, but a player like second rounder Dillon Heatherington will give the defense a boost.
Paying a hypothetical price of Nikitin, Heatherington and a first round pick for Girardi is a deal I think Columbus fans would be happy with. Girardi is an immediate upgrade on Nikitin, Heatherington's loss can be offset by the fact that the Jackets selected three players before him in the most recent draft, and the first round pick is currently 15th overall.
The key though, is to ensure that Girardi re-signs with the Jackets. Paying that price for a rental is something the Jackets will likely avoid. Callahan's agent has reportedly been given permission to speak with other clubs, and if negotiations go south Girardi's agent will likely be offered the same opportunity.
There are other factors in play, that bear discussion. If the asking price in a trade is something close to what I have offered up, there is a deal to be made. If the Jackets are given permission to negotiate a deal with Girardi's agent, will they be willing to give him the numbers that Brooks mentions above? Something like 6 years at $5.5 million would equal the $5.5 million hit that James Wisniewski's deal carries. The six years would mean Girardi's deal would expire two years after Wisniewski's and a year after Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson's deals expire. The Jackets would be committed to these four players, along with stud Ryan Murray and the vastly improved David Savard. That's a solid corps of defenders.
What about Glen Sather's willingness to trade within the division? The teams have an obvious trading history with the Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik deals, but they were consumated when the Jackets were in the Western Conference. If the season ended today the Jackets and Rangers would meet in the first round of the playoffs.
If the teams are willing trade partners, there is a deal to be made. The costs to trade for, and subsequently sign Girardi should be within the realm of reality, especially with the cap going up next season, Marian Gaborik's potential departure (or at very least reduction in cap hit) and a potential buyout of R.J. Umberger.
From a deployment perspective, Murray and Wisniewski would remain a pair, Johnson can slide down with Savard, while Tyutin and Girardi can be paired together again.
Girardi is exactly the player the Jackets need, and he is potentially available. Let's see if the Jackets' brass agrees.