Every year on July 1, the NHL free agent frenzy commences like summer’s version of Christmas Day.
Some of those free agent presents turn out to be as good as promised. Meanwhile, other signings are the equivalent of getting coal in your stocking. We won’t know the end result of these signings for a few months or even a couple of years. In the span of a few hours, the Tampa Bay Lightning completed two major signings, adding 283 games of playoff experience.
Although one of those free agent signings has been universally praised, a large majority of Bolts fans have voiced their displeasure at the other signing. Earlier today, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman announced the signings of Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi. Kunitz is a 37-year-old forward with four Stanley Cup rings, signing a one-year deal with the Lightning for $2 million. Kunitz has 884 regular season games and 161 playoff games of experience in his career, having played with Pittsburgh since 2009. He averaged 23 goals a season from 2010-11 through 2015-16, but only scored nine goals last season. Despite that, Kunitz provides plenty of experience, as well as some much-needed grit on either their second or third lines.
The signing of Girardi has brought praise by some and widespread scorn from most. The New York Rangers bought out Girardi’s contract earlier this summer with three years remaining. Girardi is a 33-year-old defenseman who is a stay-at-home type of player. He won’t bring a ton of offense, coming off a season in which he tallied 15 points. He’s also been injured, missing time last season due to an ankle injury. However, he’s also struggled in many advanced statistic metrics, registering poorly in terms of puck possession over the last three seasons. That’s not good for a team that often had trouble getting the puck out of their zone in 2016-17. The Lightning signed him to a two-year deal worth $6 million.
Following the Girardi signing, the Lightning now have a surplus of defensemen.
The Lightning now have a blue line featuring Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Jake Dotchin, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Sustr, and Girardi. In addition, Slater Koekkoek should be able to finally crack this roster. Mikhail Sergachev, acquired in the Jonathan Drouin trade, should also make a push. Another trade wouldn’t be a surprise. When looking at the money, $3 million a year is a lot to pay for a player like Girardi. A player who can now comfortably be described as a third-pairing defenseman. However, he’s also a player that is excellent in the room, can provide leadership, and bring a new voice to the team. A two-year term isn’t a major commitment, and if it doesn’t work out, the Lightning could always find a way to cut ties.
Overall, I’m not a huge fan of the Girardi signing, although it’s not going to break the bank and it’s a short-term deal. I feel like there were better players out there on the like Cody Franson or Michael Stone who could’ve been better values. This team also has young defensemen that could use more valuable NHL minutes. As long as Girardi gets third-pairing minutes, this could be a deal that works. Although it’s not one of Yzerman’s better signings on paper, perhaps a change of scenery and a clean bill of health is all Girardi needs. In the meantime, I’m still going to remain skeptical until we see how next season plays out.