‘Warrior’ Girardi Left It All on the Ice for Rangers

The clichés all fit Dan Girardi.

Warrior. Heart and Soul. Blood and Guts. And a similar unprintable that former coach John Tortorella used in admiration at times.

Others still called Girardi a Cyborg, for his ability to absorb punishment, to seemingly be immune to pain, and to play through some gruesome injuries – a cracked kneecap, a deep leg gash, facial cuts, a mangled thumb, a concussion, and myriad other “bumps and bruises” that would send normal people to emergency rooms.

Girardi, 33, from the start of his career in 2007, played in 651 of a possible first 656 regular-season games, Tortorella practically having to fight him to not play in at least three of those. A blocked-shot-waiting-to-happen, Girardi was a lesson in courage, toughness, unselfishness, perseverance and on-ice leadership.

But in pro sports, those accolades often have to be tossed out the window, and as such, the Rangers had to make a difficult but inevitable decision.

[Fischler: Warhorse, Workhorse; Girardi Leaves Rangers]

On Wednesday – the anniversary of the franchise’s only Stanley Cup in 77 years in 1994 – the team announced it was buying out Girardi.

The combination of the mileage on his battered body – he has also played more playoff game than anybody in team history other than Henrik Lundqvist – his decreasing foot speed, his overall decline, and mostly his unmanageable contract, forced the issue.

So Girardi was bought out of the last three years of his contract and will receive two-thirds of the remaining $16.5 million ($11 million) and become an unrestricted free agent.

Surely some team in an NHL where just about every team has problems with depth on defense, especially right-handed D-men, will scoop him up at a bargain price.

This buyout isn’t the same as the compliance buyouts that followed lockouts, i.e. the buyouts the Rangers used to erase the contracts of Wade Redden or Brad Richards. This is a straight buyout, and thus the Rangers will still bear a significant burden of dead cap space.

The total buyout amount is spread over twice the contract (six years in this case) and the Rangers will be hit with a cap charge of $2,611,111 for 2017-18, $3,611,111 for ‘18-19 and ’19-20, and $1,111,111 for each of the next three seasons through ‘22-23.

For those asking, that’s why they chose Girardi over Marc Staal, who is younger, healthier, perhaps a bit quicker, and whose cap hit would last eight years, not six.

Neither Staal or Girardi (nor Rick Nash nor Lundqvist) were asked to waive their no-move clauses prior to the June 21 expansion draft. The buyout of Girardi creates one more spot on the protected list of seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, to be submitted Saturday at 5 p.m.

[According to Carp: Interesting Moments Ahead As NHL’s Expansion Draft Nears]

On his way out the door, Girardi – who must have expected this was coming, even after turning back the clock in a terrific playoff series against Montreal – issued a statement through the Rangers:

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the New York Rangers organization for giving me the opportunity to fulfill my childhood dream of playing in the National Hockey League,” he said. “I would also like to thank James Dolan, Glen Sather, Jim Schoenfeld, Jeff Gorton, John Rosasco, Jason Vogel, all of the coaches and front office staff, Jim Ramsay and his amazing training staff, the equipment staff, and all the Madison Square Garden employees for making my past 11 years so special.

“I have spent one-third of my life as a New Yorker and as a New York Ranger. New York will always be our second home. I started my family here, got married to my wife Pam, and had our two children, Landon and Shaye. We have been fortunate to meet so many great people and our kids have made so many friends.

“I also wanted to thank all of the Blueshirt faithful. You are one of the best and most passionate fan bases in the NHL. I appreciate your support over the years.

“I poured my heart and soul into this team for the past 11 seasons and I enjoyed every minute of it. I want to acknowledge that the Rangers are a first-class organization who have always treated our players in a first class fashion. My family and I are most grateful for the way we have been treated during our stay in New York.

“Lastly, I want to acknowledge how great it has been to play alongside all of my teammates, including some Hall of Famers, for the past 11 years. I am going to miss all of the friends I have made along the way, but my family and I are looking forward to the next chapter in our lives. I wish the Rangers good luck and success in the future.”

He signed it, simply, “Dan.”

Remarkably, Girardi never won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, an honor meant for players of Girardi’s makeup. Undrafted and signed by Sather in 2006, Girardi’s 788 career games are fifth on the franchise’s list, behind only Harry Howell, Brian Leetch, Ron Greschner and Jim Neilson.

“Dan’s contributions to the New York Rangers organization have been immeasurable,” Sather said. “He has been a role model through his relentless determination, giving everything he had to this organization both on and off the ice. He, Pam, Landon, and Shaye will always be a part of the Rangers family.”

“I would like to thank Dan for everything he has given of himself to the Rangers over 11 seasons,”  Gorton added. “He has been one of the key contributors to our success over the past decade. We have the utmost respect for Dan and wish him all the best going forward.”

Gorton, as most expected, will have to fortify the Rangers’ defense corps before 2017-18, and he might need to fill two or three spots with newcomers via trades or free agency.

Kevin Klein, another Rangers defenseman whose game suffered mightily last season, is considering retirement, according to a story in the New York Post. That would leave the Rangers with only Steven Kampfer as a right-shooting defenseman on the current roster.

The Girardi buyout, though, could allow the Rangers to protect Klein or Nick Holden, though there is speculation that the Rangers might entice Vegas GM George McPhee to select Holden in the draft, which would allow the Rangers to keep Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Michael Grabner and Antti Raanta. Each team will lose one player from its unprotected list.

Gorton might still have a deal or two up his sleeve before the noon Friday expansion draft trade/waiver freeze. Along those lines, Gorton signed restricted free agent Matt Puempel to a one-year, $725,000 contract Wednesday, making the Rangers roster draft-compliant. Puempel will not be protected.

Barring other moves before noon Friday, I suspect this will be the protected list:

Forwards (7) – Nash, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller.

Defensemen (3)Ryan McDonagh, Staal, Holden or Klein.

Goalie (1) – Lundqvist.

Brady Skjei, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich are exempt. Brendan Smith is to be an unrestricted free agent, and thus neither protected or exposed.

In other Rangers news, the team added ex-Ranger Jed Ortmeyer – a two-time McDonald Award winner – to the staff as director of player development; ex-Ranger Steve Eminger as a professional scout, and Ben Prentiss as strength and conditioning consultant.

The team also announced it will play the Islanders, Devils and Philadelphia twice each during the preseason:

Sept. 18 vs. Islanders at MSG; Sept. 20 vs. Devils at MSG; Sept. 22 at Islanders in Bridgeport, Conn.; Sept. 23 at Devils; Sept. 25 vs. Philadelphia at MSG; Sept. 26 at Philadelphia.