Separating the Player from the Person

Dan Girardi skating in warmups for the New York Rangers (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

In my last post I discussed the on-ice performance of two New York Rangers — Dan Girardi and Tanner Glass. Their names will likely come up a lot in this blog as they both represent huge issues I have with today’s team management and player evaluation. I’m certainly not alone; when I go on other forums or blogs discussing the Rangers, I see many of the same points being made. However, the response is always something like “Dan Girardi is a warrior and has given everything to the Rangers! How could you just dismiss everything he’s ever done and treat him so terribly?” As a result, I think it’s time to include a little disclaimer that will hopefully validate the rest of my arguments in this medium.

By all accounts, Dan Girardi and Tanner Glass are great human beings and worked incredibly hard to get to where they are today. Dan Girardi was an undrafted free agent who played a hard-nosed, tough defensive defenseman’s game. He worked his way up through the Rangers’ system, becoming an integral part of the team which reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2012 and making a trip to the NHL All-Star Game. Girardi wears an “A” for the Rangers and is universally respected for his loyalty, bravery and toughness. Tanner Glass is known as a locker room favorite. He battled through the NCAA and AHL ranks and is known as a guy who gives 100% every day. As a result he has won the complete trust of Alain Vigneault, who has coached him in both Vancouver and New York.

Now let me make this very clear: as a person, Dan Girardi (from what I can tell) is fantastic and is respected by everyone who knows him. As an NHL hockey player, however, his pure on-ice performance makes him one of the worst defensemen in the entire league. He is paid a contract that, through no fault of his own, is worth at least three times his actual value in the NHL. I may harshly criticize his performance and argue that signing him to that contract was potentially a franchise-crippling move, but that does NOT mean that Dan Girardi should not have signed that contract that he worked incredibly hard for. Likewise, while Tanner Glass battles on the ice and sticks up for his teammates, his on-ice performance can be described as nothing more than a detriment to the New York Rangers and he was signed to a contract that nobody of his caliber gets signed to.

I wanted to keep this short, because it’s a pretty simple situation. In this space I’ll be talking a lot about advanced statistics and unorthodox theory in hockey. The battle raging over old school vs new school ideas in the sport has become incredibly heated over the last few years. Often, experienced hockey players, coaches and writers dismiss the ramblings of nerdy stathead bloggers who “have never even skated before” even though there are legitimate arguments to be made. At the same time, those bloggers and Twitter users throw around insults and claims without any regard for the actual people involved in the process.

I’ve played hockey my entire life. Most of my career I have played as a defenseman and I’ve never been a particularly talented player, relying on my ability to play strong defense and provide a physical presence in order to help out my team. I appreciate the role that players like Girardi and Glass play on a team and I know that their teammates and coaches do also. Alas, in the NHL the bottom line is winning. In pursuit of a Stanley Cup, the Rangers have shipped out Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov, Marian Gaborik, Derick Brassard and many other players who have grown with this team and been a part of some incredible moments that many fans will never forget. If that’s the case, then why is it such a big deal to argue that it is a smart business decision to replace Dan Girardi and Tanner Glass with players who are better and cheaper?

In my next post I’ll be talking about analytics and advanced stats, which have really paved the way for criticism of players such as Girardi and Glass. These numbers have been vilified and portrayed as weapons used to undermine hard-working hockey players, when in fact they’re really just tools that allow us to question things about the game that we may not have thought about before. Moving forward, just keep this in mind: I’m on a quest to find out how to win. Sometimes, when discussing all of this through words and numbers on a screen, we lose sight of the fact that these players are real people with lives and families. Yet while the player in question may be losing his job, there is always another hungry player looking for a chance.